Restaurant workers haul ass to provide us seasonal, delicious, safely-prepared food. And yet their meager wages—the typical restaurant worker makes $15,000 a year—are barely enough to pay their rent and groceries, let alone health insurance premiums. (This is especially true in the case of bussers and dishwashers, some of the least glamorous and lowest paying jobs in the restaurant industry.) Read more

The growth and influence of the food movement are undeniable. Take, for example, the proliferation of farmers’ markets and community supported agriculture, or the 4,500 events that took place across all 50 states on this year’s Food Day. These are just some of the testaments to the power of everyday eaters expressing their food beliefs. The list of qualifiers we now eagerly attach to our meals has exploded—we want food that’s local, organic, sustainable, fair trade, healthy, vegan, macrobiotic. Yet, with all of the craze around food and its various product labels, something seems amiss. Read more

Sarumathi Jayaraman, co-founder of the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United (ROC) and author of the upcoming book Behind The Kitchen Door, says that what’s at stake when we choose a restaurant are the lives of 10 million people, many immigrants, many people of color, who bring passion, tenacity, and important insight into the American dining experience.

The Huffington Post posted a story about working conditions for restaurant staff that recants the stifling history of the “tipped minimum wage,” the lack of regulatory influence on service workers, and the harsh realities of being paid bare minimum for hard work in situations that are neither stable nor compassionate.

Jayaraman’s promising book, Behind The Kitchen Door, investigates further and asks whether we can really eat ethically if we’re only purchasing ethical food, but not ensuring that there are ethical labor practices for the people who get the food to our plates?

I had an opportunity to talk more via eemail with Jayaraman about ROC’s work with immigrant and low-wage restaurant workers. Read more