Behind the Kitchen Door

Saru Jayaraman. Cornell Univ., $21.95 (208p) ISBN 978-0-8014-5172-0
For all its talk of organic foods and sustainability, the restaurant industry pays little mind to the health and welfare of its own low-wage employees. In this persuasive volume, Jayaraman, co-founder and co-director, with Fekkak Mamdouh, of the advocacy group Restaurant Opportunities Center United, draws attention to servers, bussers, runners, cooks, and dishwashers across the country "struggling to support themselves and their families under the shockingly exploitative conditions that exist behind most restaurant kitchen doors." Jayaraman recalls instances where wait staff at eateries in Washington, D.C., for example, or New York City handled food when they were sick: one woman had pink eye; another man had contracted H1N1; neither had sick days to use or medical insurance. Not only did they prolong their illnesses by working, they put their customers' health at risk. Though Jayaraman cites studies and statistics aplenty, it is stories like these that effectively illustrate her point. She also addresses racism in restaurants, where "workers got darker – literally! – as you walked from the front door to the kitchen, and the darker the workers' skins, the less money they were likely to earn." Jayaraman champions employee causes and argues fervently against discrimination, giving restaurant owners, diners, and readers considerable food for thought. (Feb.)
Reviewed on: 02/11/2013
Release date: 02/01/2013
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