Forked by Saru Jayaraman

I don’t usually read two books by the same author because I feel there are so many topics, so many authors one can sample in our ever shrinking time that’s devoted to the lost art of reading books.

However Activist Saru Jayaraman is an exception and so is the work she’s devoted her life to doing. I really admire her and feel so proud that we share the same gender and Indian heritage. She’s a great role model and is making a positive difference in the lives of so many people.

I was introduced to her through some article that made me watch her TED talk and then read her first book; Behind the Kitchen Door, 2014. I wrote a book review of it, which can be found here. This week I finished reading her second book called Forked, 2016, which is equally inspiring. Here’s why. (Bernie Sander’s style!)

As some of my blog readers may know by now, I am a student of and believer in sustainability. One thing we learn early on when studying corporate sustainability is the list of ‘green’ companies out there who are making a profit while saving or at least not destroying the environment. This book talks about some of these companies. Starbucks is one such hero. McDonalds makes it to some lists too. And we all know of Subway, whose claim to fame is the “Subway for lunch” diet that promises better health outcomes.

The point many of these companies forget that in its truest form sustainability is not only about the environment. It concerns the 3ps- planet, people, and profits. So if a company makes profits or is able to stay in business by hurting the planet (environmentally non-friendly) OR the people (socially-destructive) then it is really not a very green or even decent company. It is making profits at the cost of the people or the planet and sometimes both. That’s what this book highlights and that’s why it’s a really good read: to help us think about what an ideal company should be and can be.

The format of the book is interesting in that it covers various dining categories. Each chapter covers one of the major dining avenues such as cafes, sit down restaurants, steakhouses etc. and compares a high road (provides for and cares for its employees) and a low road company (poor working conditions). A company is categorized as high road, low road or in the middle based on four essential criteria

  • Wages for non-tipped workers (hosts and hostesses, dishwashers, prep cooks, line cooks, and porters)
  • Hourly wages for tipped workers, which can legally be as low as $2.13 per hour (thanks to what Saru and her organization (ROC) refer to as the other-NRA; National Restaurant Association)
  • Policy on paid sick days (it’s astonishing to find out that most restaurants think its ok to have workers come into work while sick and both harm themselves as well as their customers!)
  • And finally access to training which eventually should lead to salary raises or promotions.

The goal of the book is to raise diners’ consciousness about wages and working conditions for those who prepare and serve meals.

For those who believe in the cause and want to take action beyond reading the book, the author recommends downloading the ROC (Restaurant Opportunities Center) smartphone app to serve as a guide to dining out. This app helps us pick high road restaurants. However, to make an equally meaningful change, she recommends visiting low road restaurants and sharing ROC values with restaurateurs. And finally for all us who understand that our voice matters and counts, we could tell our elected (or soon to be elected) officials to support “One Fair Wage” for all restaurant employees.

I know it seems a lot of work to do while eating, especially since eating for most of us is a means of escaping the harsh realities of society and our daily lives but we can start by maybe giving anonymous feedback when asked by Yelp, Google, or One table. That’s what I did.

Happy eating and if nothing else this is a good book to read to be aware of issues that matter and that are important; since we all eat out and we all like being treated fairly.

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