Synopses & Reviews
"Sustainability is about contributing to a society that everybody benefits from, not just going organic because you don't want to die from cancer or have a difficult pregnancy. What is a sustainable restaurant? It's one in which as the restaurant grows, the people grow with it." — from Behind the Kitchen Door
How do restaurant workers live on some of the lowest wages in America? And how do poor working conditions — discriminatory labor practices, exploitation, and unsanitary kitchens — affect the meals that arrive at our restaurant tables? Saru Jayaraman, who launched the national restaurant workers' organization Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, sets out to answer these questions by following the lives of restaurant workers in New York City, Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, Miami, Detroit, and New Orleans.
Blending personal narrative and investigative journalism, Jayaraman shows us that the quality of the food that arrives at our restaurant tables depends not only on the sourcing of the ingredients. Our meals benefit from the attention and skill of the people who chop, grill, sauté, and serve. Behind the Kitchen Door is a groundbreaking exploration of the political, economic, and moral implications of dining out. Jayaraman focuses on the stories of individuals, like Daniel, who grew up on a farm in Ecuador and sought to improve the conditions for employees at Del Posto; the treatment of workers behind the scenes belied the high-toned Slow Food ethic on display in the front of the house.
Increasingly, Americans are choosing to dine at restaurants that offer organic, fair-trade, and free-range ingredients for reasons of both health and ethics. Yet few of these diners are aware of the working conditions at the restaurants themselves. But whether you eat haute cuisine or fast food, the well-being of restaurant workers is a pressing concern, affecting our health and safety, local economies, and the life of our communities. Highlighting the roles of the 10 million people, many immigrants, many people of color, who bring their passion, tenacity, and vision to the American dining experience, Jayaraman sets out a bold agenda to raise the living standards of the nation's second-largest private sector workforce — and ensure that dining out is a positive experience on both sides of the kitchen door.
"With Behind the Kitchen Door, Saru Jayaraman has introduced a fresh and essential perspective on our culture's food obsessions and dining habits. By highlighting the lives and circumstances of workers who are often unseen and unheard, she has helped us see that labor is a key ingredient of authentic sustainability, and greatly enriched our understanding of those people who have — whether we have recognized it or not — been part of some of the most important celebrations of our lives." Danny Glover, actor, producer, and cofounder of Louverture Films
"Half of all Americans eat out at least once a week. The restaurant has become our second kitchen. In her groundbreaking new book, Saru Jayaraman exposes a missing plotline in the story of our food: the story of who's behind the kitchen door, how they're treated, and why it matters. Hers is a captivating, rousing story. If you care about where your food comes from, this book is for you. Read this book, get inspired, and join the fight for fair food behind the kitchen door." Anna Lappé, founder of the Real Food Media Project and bestselling author of Diet for a Hot Planet
"The poorest paid workers in America are the ones most likely to be cooking your food and washing your dishes. Saru Jayaraman tells their stories with searing analysis and vital compassion in this landmark book. She shows how the most exploited aren't just victims, but survivors organizing for dignity and safety in the food system. And in so doing, she helps us understand that sustainable food isn't just about how organic or local the food is, but how high workers can hold their heads." Raj Patel, bestselling author of The Value of Nothing and Stuffed and Starved
About the Author
Saru Jayaraman is cofounder and codirector of the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United and director of the Food Labor Research Center at the University of California, Berkeley.