Putting Change on The Menu

saru2By Kristen Robinson

Last Monday, I went to “Putting Change on the Menu”, an event hosted at 1871 by Women Employed, a Chicago-based nonprofit advocacy organization that has focused on ensuring work fairness and educational success for over 40 years. I was immediately attracted to the intensity; I was not able to attend networking, but by the looks of the empty snack table and wine bottles, well dressed and discerning young entrepreneurs, investors and revolutionaries with laser directed focus, it was about to go down in a good way. Cathy, my lovely table mate at the event gave me an air of “early 90’s powerhouse business woman from Dallas who wrote corporate how- to’s ”.  Bright eyed students seeking existential answers bustled around with enthusiastic restlessness, yet you could cut the professionalism in the room with a knife.  I immediately linked up with Ms. Saru Jayaraman for a press photo; her piercing eyes flashed with purpose as she gracefully stopped to take a photo and welcomed me to the event. I knew immediately she was not a type to waste her words on trivial matters. She was there for a reason. I was all in at once. Oh, my beloveds, I had no idea. http://womenemployed.org/thanks-great-conversation

 Saru’s introductory credentials roared, the kind that made me low key want to be just like her; I took out my notebook but couldn’t keep up. I heard Yale, University of Berkely, ROC United, Forked, Behind the Kitchen Door, Raise and other revelations of her grand vision. A Trailer flashed across the flat screen across from me and set up a scene: “Dining Ethics” featuring a young couple in a five star restaurant:  entrée details were exposed; prices symptomatic of free range this, hormone free that, organically grown here, you get the picture. Then cut scene to the back of the house where we meet Oscar who can’t afford to feed his family because he makes $2.13 an hour plus tips, Barbara who is sexually assaulted on a daily basis and Kofi, who has no medical benefits so he works through his contagious illness because he can’t afford a day off. Saru’s general tone and advice was it’s always good to be conscious of how your food is being treated, but what about the treatment of people that are serving you your food? https://www.forkedthebook.com/

This was a mere introduction to issues that I am aware of, NEVER deeply thought about in the context of the big picture. Saru dropped jewels on the history of tipping and how it carried over to America from Aristocratic European feudal practices by way of racism, “justifying” why railways and restaurant owners could use it as an alternative form of pay after the Emancipation Proclamation, since most of their workers were African American, and therefore “not deserving” of fair pay. She described the role that the Pullman Porters played in influencing  civil rights and railroad wages as well. http://us.macmillan.com/risingfromtherails/larrytye

One of Saru’s calls to action, the ROC United coalition (Restaurant Opportunity Centers United) is an answer to the absence of workers justice in the National Restaurant Association and stands to encourage restaurant owners to take the “high road” when considering employee wages and has won 13 major campaigns against exploitation in high-profile restaurant companies, organizing more than 400 workers and winning more than $7 million in financial settlements and improvements in workplace policies, including grievance procedures, raises, sexual harassment policies, sick days, job security, and anti-discrimination policies. http://rocunited.org/ Ah-mazing.

There were lots of statistics and amazing research in regards to this pressing issue. This is just the tip of the iceberg, so I implore you to further your perspective. Learn from Women Employed what you can do to take action on these important workplace issues. Download their Menu of Good Employers so you can support businesses who are doing the right thing, and be armed with conversation starters the next time you dine or drink in ChicagoThe book is called Forked. And you should get it.  Also check out  the October New City issue “No Tipping Please: Why the days of restaurant tipping may be numbered” by Kristine Sherred, it’s a great follow up to all of this as well as an example of a no tipping model and a look into inclusive gratuity.  In the meantime, make sure you consider this when you are leaving that “standard $5,15% or “whatever”. Stay woke. http://www.raiseillinoisaction.com/


 que4photo (1)Kristen Robinson was born with Blues in her heart, and a halo of snakeskin and Thai gold. Kristen’s affinity to all things dangerous and superficial in her youth inspired her heightened sense of collective consciousness, best expressed through her art/life . Kristen thinks best in the company of St. Cecilia, prisms, and foods that are green. Kristen now finds herself speaking less and full of lucid vindication, helping others live at their highest possible frequency. You can reach Kristen at que4radio.org, hosting HighxFunxionxRadio on Saturdays from 11:30 to 12:30PM.



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