You've probably eaten at a restaurant before. You might even be doing it right now. Maybe take a second to look around you?
Think about the phrases "eating sustainably" or "eating ethically." Is something like this what comes to mind?
Lately there's been a lot of talk about — and a lot of money spent on — eating food that's fresh, locally produced, sustainably grown, humane, etc. And while it's terrific that we're paying so much attention to the impact our food has on the environment and on ourselves, there's one key element that's been left out of most of these conversations.
I'm pretty sure Claudia and her working conditions aren't what popped into your head, right?
It's no coincidence that Claudia and her wages don't come to mind. A lot of restaurants probably don't want us to know that we're paying their workers' wages. Wait, what?
Yep, the minimum wage for tipped workers in this country is only $2.13 an hour. But even with tips, female tipped workers make a median wage of only $8 an hour. And on top of that, many restaurants also mistreat their employees, for example by requiring them to report higher tips than they actually earned or making them work off the clock.
Take Claudia, for example.
"And one night, Claudia worked a full night's shift at the IHOP at Houston, Texas, and earned some money in tips, but at the end of the night, a couple walked out without paying the bill. And the manager said to her, even though it is illegal and even though IHOP is a mega corporation, 'You're going to be held responsible for that bill.' And so Claudia ended up paying $20 because that bill was $20 more than everything she had earned that entire night in tips — for the luxury of having worked a full night's shift at the IHOP in Houston, Texas. And again, I cannot tell you how many thousands of times I have heard that same story."
Most tipped workers also don't get benefits like paid sick leave.
I'll say that again: Most tipped workers don't get benefits like paid sick leave. If they're living paycheck to paycheck, they often can't afford to take unpaid time off. A lot of the people who touch our food only get paid if they go to work, sick or not.
How about a side of H1N1 with those waffles?
And don't even get me started on the treatment of female restaurant workers.
"The restaurant industry has the highest rates of sexual harassment of any industry in the United States."
It also happens to be the industry in which many young women get their start in the working world.
The images above are fictional, but the stories aren't.
Saru Jayaraman outlines in her talk the hundreds of stories she's heard just like these from restaurant workers across the country. But the good thing is, she also offers real solutions, including things (easy things!) each one of us can do to help fix this every time we eat out. So that we really and truly can say we're eating sustainably.