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Jul 19, 2012 03:05 AM

Do Foodies or Chowhounds Care about Workers?

This article from suggests that foodies are not terribly fussed about workers' rights. My sense is that the same goes for many (although not all) chowhounds despite the great pride many (US) hounds take in their tipping practices. Or is that 'because' since tipping is a practice that seeks to make subsistence an issue of philanthropy rather than justice?

What do you think?

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  1. Personally, I think the issue is a relevant one and first began to know something about it when Bittman's Op-Ed was published a few weeks ago ( ). One is either a thoughtful consumer or not and issues like those raised in the Salon piece are factors to be considered in making dining choices. Sadly, the problems are basically the problems inherent in the division in out economic and political systems. The treatment of minimum wage workers by the largest food corporations is, however, something that consumers can attempts to influence. Avoiding taking meals at Olive Garden or Red Lobster not only means you eat better, but perhaps will begin to deliver the message that over exerting the employer's leverage upon workers is unacceptable.

    3 Replies
    1. re: MGZ

      You probably shouldn't have picked Olive Garden/Red Lobster as examples, since they treat their waitstaff very well, offering health insurance and other benefits, and are very concerned about treating their employees fairly as any big corporation should be. Of course I understand what you're saying, but chain restaurants aren't inherently evil either. Nor somewhere that "foodies" eat very often!

      1. re: coll

        According to both of the articles cited in this thread, and the ROC-U guide cited therein, the Dardin Restaurant Group is a poor employer:

        1. re: MGZ

          OK to tell the truth I worked there when it was owned by General Mills, but I don't see mention of no health benefits in this link, which was a big reason a lot of people worked there; it was free if you worked over 20 hours or you paid if you worked less. Darden Group was some kind of internal takeover right after I left, so I imagined if any changes, they were for the better. I started in the kitchen, and less than six months later was promoted to manager, so there was plenty of room for advancement. Anyone who showed a little initiative got offered management, not just me. I do see they think no sick days is some kind of terrible thing, but for the last 20 years I've worked in sales, and if you didn't sell, you didn't make money, so that doesn't phase me either. But this is a union, no? I can't really tell where they're coming from. So guess they see things differently that I do. BTW I never eat at chains since then really, I'm just piping up with what I know (knew?)

    2. I always tip with cash left on the table. That's about the extent of it.

      1. I care about workers in that I always treat them with respect, tip when appropriate and try to never say anything to anyone in a food establishment that makes it seem like I am their superior, because I am not. I come from a lower middle class background, worked in restaurants for years and have had my own food business. I am fortunate enough to have risen a bit above my meager beginnings but that in no way has made me forget how difficult it is to earn a living by washing the dirty dishes from which others have eaten.

        I will say that from some of the things I have seen people post on this site, I do believe there are many people out there whose thinking runs directly opposite to what I have said.

        4 Replies
        1. re: ttoommyy

          "I will say that from some of the things I have seen people post on this site, I do believe there are many people out there whose thinking runs directly opposite to what I have said."

          Sadly, I've seen that too.

          1. re: MGZ

            I see it often as well, but I feel that those attitudes are held by the minority on this site.

          2. re: ttoommyy

            There's no shortage of people who feel a need to look down their nose at somebody.

            1. re: ttoommyy

              You summed up my feelings perfectly. I can't add a thing. Well said.

            2. I suspect few consumers are particularly concerned about the employees of companies they come into contact with. It is not restricted to foodies. Nor to companies within the broad food industry.

              2 Replies
              1. re: Harters

                Entirely agreed. Issues of economic and labour justice are not foremost in many minds. But given that foodies are so preoccupied with issues of food, including (especially) provenance, this is worth asking.

                1. re: Lizard

                  I sometimes feel that some Hounders disrespect those that don't have the same tastes as they do. I have been put down several times over teh years, once just today!

              2. A quote from the article:
                "In fact, so-called foodies who are outraged at the idea of inhumanely raised pigs are remarkably uninterested in the inhumane work conditions of those who help get their pork to the table."

                My gut reaction - It has little to do with foodies. Or chowhounds. Rather, Americans by and large aren't concerned about the treatment of food workers. I don't really know why foodies are being singled out here, aside from the opportunity it presents for the author to take pot shots at hipsters and farmers markets. Everybody eats.

                I'm all for some serious discussion about the plight of food industry workers. I don't think this article helps the cause though. It's needlessly and foolishly divisive. (also, just to nit pick - the scare at the NC Olive Garden was hepatitis A not C. C is bloodborne, and you're not going to get it from eating at a restaurant)

                Of note however, this topic dovetails with another topic that came up a little while back about why Slow Food USA's $5/day food challenge created such a fracas:
                I think part of the reason that particular challenge pissed off a bunch of people in the slow food movement was largely because people in the movement ARE concerned about the conditions and pay of food workers, and the challenge was seen as opposing their ideals.

                3 Replies
                1. re: cowboyardee

                  I saw the appeal to "foodies" as more of a clarion call than a chance for pot shots. Awareness of these issues needs to be raised and where better to start than with a subgroup that has already displayed the ability to act about issues related to their consumption? Perhaps those who are willing to pay an extra dollar or two for humanely-raised pork would be willing to do the same for a humanely treated human. I mean, one has to admit that some of the basic facts are pretty foul - two bucks an hour? the rate of food stamp assistance?

                  It seems to me that if ever there was a group in need of collective representation, it is the modern, corporate food worker. Sadly the political and media power of management has made this nearly impossible. Having not entered such a restaurant in a decade, I have had no experience or interaction with people working under such conditions while they were working. I cannot imagine they are happy, more likely just surviving. I don't see how the situation can make for a pleasant night out for any thoughtful diner.

                  1. re: MGZ

                    "I saw the appeal to "foodies" as more of a clarion call than a chance for pot shots."
                    Foodies in general - and especially foodies whose buying choices already have an ethical dimension - would certainly seem to be a good group to appeal to, one of the likeliest groups to take up the cause,

                    But the tone of the article was all wrong if that was the intent. It seemed more geared toward making fun of said foodies for their perceived hypocrisy and insincerity.

                    1. re: cowboyardee

                      As noted, I read Bittman's piece a month or more ago. Quite honestly, the Slate essay is fundamentally the same though with a bit "younger" voice. Perhaps I missed some of the nuanced tone as a consequence of having been exposed to the same theories and facts by a better source. Either way, it's a sad state of affairs.

                      BTW - I thought the Hepatitis testing seemed odd. Made me wonder what might have happened to the sick guy while he was in the kitchen.