This week, Saru Jayaraman, an amazing advocate for food workers as co-founder of the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United and now director of the Food Labor Research Center at the University of California, Berkeley is releasing her new book, Behind the Kitchen Door.
As I have said before, the most under-reported and neglected aspect of the good food movement is the 20 million workers, about half of whom work in the restaurant industry, preparing our food, serving our dishes, and cleaning up our mess.
This week, to help bring attention to Jayaraman’s important book, I will write one blog post per day on this topic. Why start with “the other NRA” as I like to call the National Restaurant Association? This powerful lobbying group is largely responsible for keeping the federal tipped minimum wage at a dismal $2.13. Yes you read that figure right. I was shocked to learn about that, even after years of researching and writing about the food industry. That’s because too often, my public health colleagues don’t connect the dots. While we know (as I described in my book) for decades the NRA has obstructed common sense laws such as menu labeling, far less attention is given to their lobbying against worker rights. It’s high time that disconnect comes to an end.
Just last week, a New York Times story on how restaurants are offering lower calorie items pointed to the “Healthy Dining Finder.” Although it’s not mentioned on the website, this program is funded by the National Restaurant Association as a way to promote its members’ brands, which include all the major fast food and casual dining chains. Another public relations program from the nation’s restaurant lobby is called “Kids LiveWell,” for which (as the site explains) registered dietitians developed “stringent” nutrition criteria for children’s meals. Criteria aside, this program is designed to distract away from any criticism that the food industry has come under for targeting children. Participating restaurants include such healthy establishments as Arby’s, Burger King, and Denny’s. Recently, the NRA announced that cereal giant Kellogg is now a sponsor of the kids’ program:
As a program partner, Kellogg will work hand-in-hand with restaurants to incorporate products into menu options. Kellogg offers multiple product choices that can help operators meet the Kids LiveWell criteria. With the growing demand for nutritious alternatives, the following solutions help to incorporate alternatives into a well-balanced meal: Morningstar Farms and Gardenburger veggie products; Keebler Animal Crackers; Frosted Mini-Wheats Little Bites Cinnamon cereal bowl packs; and Kellogg’s Nutri-Grain Cereal Bars, all of which offer enhanced nutrition such as whole grain, fiber, vitamins and minerals and/or lean protein.