Archive for : Food Justice

Summer Events for the Food Policy Enthusiast

This article originally appeared on the Hunter College NYC Food Policy Center blog on June 17, 2019.

By Hunter College NYC Food Policy Center

In celebration of the first day of summer on Friday, June 21st, the Hunter College NYC Food Policy Center is excited to share 14 upcoming food policy events happening around NYC over the next few months. We hope you enjoy them!

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Racial Disparity and Food Equity in the American Restaurant Industry

By Jamie Cooley

When the average diner goes out to eat in America, they may think of traveling to Europe as they engage in “Conge’ Eggs” and cheese grits. Or they may think of traveling to a beautiful Northern coast as they dine at a fine seafood restaurant while enjoying “The Oyster Rockefeller” with a side of coleslaw. But they may never think of traveling to the countryside or inner city homes of the African woman, modernly identified now as the Black woman, one who created these noted dishes while enslaved in a plantation kitchen to serve the wealthiest families of the world, from presidents to businessmen from Europe. These kitchens on the plantation served as the blueprint of the layout of the restaurant experience we enjoy at our convenience today. Black people have been colonized out of the historical and present history of hospitality dining services in America. Black American food is misappropriated and automatically labeled “Southern,” “low country,” or “American” food. Black Americans are hardly ever thought of as a people or appreciated when it comes to the intellectual property of the $900 billion American restaurant industry, which profits off Black food, utensil, and hospitality creations. This writing out of history negatively affects the present-day working experience of many Black restaurant workers across North America. I am a witness to this racist experience, and have suffered in silence because of a fear of losing my job and connections to a skill I’m spiritually tied to, which is to serve others.

While serving at various restaurants throughout Atlanta, Georgia and being one of the top gross salespeople for their owners, I’ve been harassed and put under duress. Like many of my Black colleagues, I’ve experience harassment on three levels. First, I’ve often worked for management that displays anti-Black bias in their rules around dress and their double standards around conduct. The “perception is reality” philosophy is used against many Black people who cook and serve: we can be deemed “too Black” if we talk a certain way, look a certain way, or wear our hair in African styles, especially when it’s not the typical pressed straight hair for women or low cut fade hair for men. If we’re caught not smiling for a second too long, we are perceived to have “attitudes”.  Unconscious bias is extremely dangerous. In the restaurant industry, it can cost hardworking Black workers their income.

Second, Black workers also face tip harassment. The American restaurant industry is one of the largest and fastest growing sectors of the economy, employing nearly 10 percent of the workforce. Yet it is also the lowest paying industry, with the highest proportion of workers earning wages at or below the federal minimum. For Black workers consistently going through tip harassment, this wage is even lower. One solution would be for management to recognize patterns of customer bias against Black servers and compensate them when tips are lower than a standard percentage of sales.  My sales often outweigh what I have been tipped.

Third, we also experience harassment from coworkers who are allowed to express their disdain for serving Black families who are wrongly stereotyped about for not tipping before the check even hits the table. Tipping and harassment go together. While tipping remains a favored practice in the US, it has created a system of unfair pay that disproportionately affects Black women and men — a system that has roots in America’s ugly history of slavery and racial discrimination. I’ve personally have had “we don’t tip n•ggers” written on my store copy receipt while working at a restaurant in Midtown, Atlanta. Even still I show up and show out for every guest I get to serve, because I love what I do. I am deeply connected to the work.

When the tipping practice was brought to the US in the 19th century, the American public was deeply uncomfortable with it. Many saw tipping as undemocratic and therefore un-American. A powerful anti-tipping movement erupted, fueled by the argument that employers, not customers, should be paying workers. But American restaurants and railway companies fought particularly hard to keep tipping, because it meant they didn’t have to pay recently freed Black Americans, who were prisoners of war and enslavement, now employed by those industries.

Though I have witnessed extremely hard work ethic amongst my Black peers in food, we are rarely promoted to management or to head chefs. Though our food is highly represented on the millions of plates dished out annually, we have very little representation in restaurant management and ownership.

On May 19th, 2019, I recently spoke of my experience in a safe space, The Living Color “Racial Equity Dialogue Dinner” created by Chef Zu of Kings Apron of Atlanta, There, I had the honor to serve over a hundred people a five course farm-to-table menu which included foods that traveled to North and South America with enslaved Africans on slave ships. Our ancestors were able to save this intellectual property while living in terror. They gifted the Americas their cuisine, sustainable agriculture knowledge, iron, clay, and wood craftsmanship to create the utensils used to prepare and eat the food, and the culture of hospitality–the fine dining techniques of how to set the table and moving so as not to interrupt the guest. These are gifts from Africa, innovated in the Americas by the surviving children of people kidnapped from their native lands. But because of the lack of resources for Black American food innovators and startups, and lack of truthful lessons spoken in American classrooms, the contributions from Black people in the diaspora do not get the same respect and cultural recognition as those of the people and food from Western Europe, the Mediterranean, and Asia. Black Americans’ equity in the food industry and their cultural identity as founders of American cuisine continues to be discounted and diminished.

We can all help fight our current system by properly educating and empowering consumers to make informed dining decisions. We also need to offer resources to platforms such as Chef Zu’s “Living Color Racial Equity Dialogue” dinners, and other “safe” spaces that have brought restaurant owners, organizations and consumers together to listen to cries from food workers who are mistreated unconsciously or consciously. We can all work together to help turn this negative into a positive.

 

Jamie Cooley was born in Rocky Mount, North Carolina. An Afro-Carolinian daughter of the shores. A communicator of her Gullah Geechee elders and ancestors whose desires are to continue to create the ultimate dining experience for all people, preserving the gifts of agricultural food science from Africans during slavery which are served on plates everyday throughout every American restaurant, and showcasing the original hospitality culture of African women living in the diaspora. Jamie is a mother, a wife, writer, musician, and local winemaker who now resides in Decatur, Georgia. Jamie has built over 10 years of food service knowledge while creating high quality dining memories for over a hundred thousand families, serving throughout the Buckhead, Roswell, and Midtown neighborhoods of Atlanta, Georgia.

Let all who are hungry (one in seven Americans) come and eat

This article originally appeared in The Times of Israel on April 19, 2019. 

By Cindy Greenberg, Interim CEO of Repair the World

On Friday night, Jewish people, loved ones, and friends around the world will join together for Passover seders. And while no two seders are exactly alike, certain rituals, traditions, and words are common in almost every seder: The four questions. Looking for the afikomen. The profound statement “Let all who are hungry come and eat.” Undoubtedly, this sentence comprised of eight direct and powerful words would be overwhelming if taken literally. And, like any words said over and over, the sentence can lose its meaning. In the spirit of Passover and of asking questions, let’s step back and ask ourselves what are we actually doing so that all who are hungry can come and eat—not just at our seders, but every day of the year.

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Q&A with Hal B. Klein of Pittsburgh Magazine

In this sit down interview with Pittsburgh Magazine’s (and Repair the World Pittsburgh Advisory Committee Member) Hal B. Klein, we dive in to his history with food, food justice, Repair the World, and his love for the city of Pittsburgh.

Name: Hal B. Klein
Resides in: Bloomfield, Pittsburgh.
Current Job: Restaurant Critic and Associate Editor, Pittsburgh Magazine
Age: 42

Repair: Tell us a bit about your background.
Hal: I was working as an actor in theater and film, and around 2008 I decided I wanted to try something new. I always had been interested in food, and I found this program at Chatham University in Pittsburgh offering a new Master’s Program in Food Studies. It sounded like a pretty cool multi-disciplinary program looking at food systems, so I decided to give it a shot.

And how did you get into writing about food?
Well I knew I wanted to do something communications related, so I took a food writing class in my program the summer between my first and second year. The professor told our class that the local alternative weekly magazine was looking for someone to write about alcohol. So I pitched the editor there and got the job. Later I became friends with the new restaurant critic for the Post-Gazette. One time she couldn’t do a story and gave it to me. That led to an ongoing freelance gig with them, and then I got my full time job with Pittsburgh Magazine where I am Restaurant Critic and Associate Editor.

How do you approach your work and how do your stories come together?
I’m usually working on one or two big features at a time. I really try to focus on people or issues so my stories are more than just lists about food. One story I did recently focused on international restaurants; I focused on the people running the restaurants so it really became a story about immigrants. I’m now working on a story about people who were incarcerated and are now working in restaurants, which presents both great opportunities but certainly some challenges too. I do about four print columns a month, which includes a restaurant review, and an online column. Another cool thing is that because I’m also an editor, I get to write my own headlines, which is very rare in the world of journalism.

How does your work fit in with the mission of Repair the World?
First I should say that I have not covered food justice issues as much I’d like to, and I really plan to cover it more in the next couple of years. Pittsburgh is fortunate to have organizations like Repair. Change happens when people talk to others from different backgrounds and with different challenges, and together they try to overcome them. I know Repair brings people together to start talking initially, and then to have that conversation lead to action. Going to dinner and hearing from a diverse assortment of people, really having a forum for challenging discussions, will lead to systemic change driven by younger generations. Nationally, food justice is a very serious issue and it manifests itself in ways a lot of us cannot even fathom. I’ve met people who don’t have refrigerators. Organizations and leaders are doing great work. But these are very tough issues—it’s hard to change systems; hard to equalize the playing field; and hard to engage people.

What are you specifically seeing in Pittsburgh with food justice?
Pittsburgh has a lot of people who want to provide food access to as many people as possible. Along with Repair locally, 412 Food rescue uses tech really well to get people food. They have a mobile platform for restaurants to post when they have extra food, and people get alerts so they can then pick up the food and deliver it. This idea of “Tech and human touch” is defining Pittsburgh. We also have a problem that other cities have: how do you pay workers in the kitchen more than $8.50/hour without raising the price at the restaurant of a meal? It’s not easy for customers to understand that cause and effect, but we have to convince people that this makes sense for the economics of society.

What’s Pittsburgh like as a city?
I moved here is 2010 and fell in love with the city. It’s really amazing to see the growth of the city in terms of people and also the number of restaurants here now. This city really is built on people and the enriching and exciting communities they create. Pittsburgh is big enough to have a lot going on, but small enough to have a real feeling of community. You might go somewhere and not know people, but soon enough you talk to people and quickly find a connection. One other defining quality of Pittsburgh is that I haven’t found there to be cutthroat competition like in other cities. There’s healthy competition to do well, but people really help each other too.

And what about the Pittsburgh food scene?
There’s a long history here of Eastern European food; it’s actually known locally as “hunky food,” a term that sometimes used to carry a negative connotation, but is used more often today as a term of endearment. Yet with so many restaurants opening now there’s a re-definition of Pittsburgh food. Some people are taking the Eastern European cuisine and refreshing it; others are trying things more along the lines of the national food scene. And with a newer wave of immigration from China, we’re seeing great regionally specific restaurants popping up serving diners who know how to navigate a regional menu.

And finally, I have to ask – what’s your favorite food?
That’s easy – delicious food.

Food industry can be an entry point for ex-cons seeking to build a new life

This article originally appeared in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on December 1, 2017.

By Dan Gigler

Having spent most of his adult life trapped in a vicious cycle between jail and the hustle of the drug trade, Julius Drake got an expected wake-up call in the form of the kitchen spoon to the back of the head.

He was working in the kitchen at the Allegheny County Jail while incarcerated there, when a woman from his neighborhood, a jail employee who worked in food service, bopped him with a spoon and told him he should pay attention. By virtue of working in the kitchen he was developing a trade, and he didn’t even realize it.

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Why I am Inspired to Act Now

This post originally appeared in e-Jewish Philanthropy on November 22, 2017.

By Raffaella Glasser

After over two months as a Repair the World Fellow it still feels like yesterday that I sat at Capital Camps at the Repair the World national orientation surrounded by my fellow fellows. We each were embarking on our year of service with Repair the World. I was in awe of the people I was meeting – each fellow coming from across the country with an incredible set of skills, amazing experiences and drive for the work they were about to begin. I couldn’t help but wonder how I would fit into Repair. Would my skills and experiences prepare me for the year to come?

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Repair the World People: Ken Regal of Just Harvest

In the month leading up to Passover, Repair the World is sharing stories that highlight the on-the-ground ways our fellows, volunteers, and partner organizations serve in solidarity to turn the tables on racial injustice. Today, meet Ken Regal, a pioneer of the food justice movement and Executive Director of Just Harvest in Pittsburgh. Then, join our Passover campaign and help us serve in solidarity by hosting and volunteering. Together we can #ActNowForRacialJustice.

These days, food justice is at the forefront of American consciousness. But back in the mid-1980s, years if not decades ahead of its time, Just Harvest pioneered a dynamic anti-hunger organization in Pittsburgh. By linking local poverty with global food challenges – they are talking about food deserts before it was even a term – and combining holistic direct service with education and advocacy, they have become one of the country’s most important food justice organizations.

Over the past 30 years, Just Harvest has stayed true to its core principles that food is a fundamental right and that all people – regardless of their background or circumstances – are entitled to “dignity, rights, and a voice in the policies that affect them.” At the ground level, they help connect low income families to public services like food stamps and school meals, and help foster increased access to healthy, fresh foods within underserved neighborhoods. They also are a resource for individuals and families who need subsidized help with income tax preparation.

On the advocacy level, they lobby and educate on these same issues – childhood hunger, a compassionate approach to benefits, and healthy food access. “Some people see us as mostly an organization that directly helps low income people,” said co-founder and Executive Director, Ken Regal. “But our roots are in policy.”
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Repair the World People: Rebecca Mather

In the month leading up to Passover, Repair the World is sharing stories that highlight the on-the-ground ways our fellows, volunteers, and partner organizations serve in solidarity to turn the tables on racial injustice. Today, meet Rebecca Mather, who incorporates Repair the World materials into her work as Social Justice Coordinator at Texas Hillel. Then, join our Passover campaign and help us serve in solidarity by hosting and volunteering. Together we can #ActNowForRacialJustice.

Every Friday night, Jewish students gather at Texas Hillel at the University of Texas, Austin for Shabbat services. But in addition to the Reform, Conservative, and traditional minyanim (prayer gatherings) one might expect, some students opt for a different sort of gathering: a conversation about social justice.

Launched by Texas Hillel staffer, Rebecca Mather, the conversations cover everything from unpacking the Black Lives Matter movement to exploring Judaism’s relationship with water as a starting point to discuss the situations in Flint or at Standing Rock.
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Repair the World People: Horace Bradley

In the month leading up to Passover, Repair the World is sharing stories that highlight the on-the-ground ways our fellows, volunteers, and partner organizations serve in solidarity to turn the tables on racial injustice. Today, meet volunteer extraordinaire, Horace Bradley. Then, join our Passover campaign and help us serve in solidarity by hosting and volunteering. Together we can #ActNowForRacialJustice.

Choosing to volunteer is, when you really think about it, pretty heroic. We’re all busy folks – with school, with work, with family obligations, with…life. So the act of purposefully carving out the time to help someone else, or to help a whole community or the planet is pretty much worthy of a standing ovation.

One of the things we strive for at Repair the World is to create meaningful volunteer opportunities that let everyday people (that’s all of us) become everyday heroes. We have a lot of everyday heroes who volunteer in our partner cities, but Horace Bradley is one of the most dedicated.

By day, Bradley works as a customer service agent at Target. But in his spare time over the last two years, he has volunteered regularly with Philly Farm Crew – urban farm/garden volunteer workdays which we run in partnership with the Jewish Farm School. During Farm Crew days, volunteers get their hands dirty in the soil, doing work on vacant lot gardens and urban farms around Philadelphia.

Farming is labor-intensive work that requires persistence and commitment throughout the growing season. Without volunteers like Bradley, the work of planting and harvesting vegetables, weeding the gardens, building a greenhouse, and constructing a Cobb oven (all things done during Philly Farm Crew days) simply wouldn’t happen. “Farming is a great way to commune with nature and with others,” Bradley said.

In addition to the Farm Crew, Bradley has been involved with Repair the World in a variety of other ways – baking loaves of bread with Challah for Hunger, sorting books at a public school library, and packing food for people in need. He also joined one of Repair the World’s alternative break programs in Detroit. “It was my first time volunteering so far away from home,” he said. During the trip, he and the other volunteers boarded up abandoned homes.

So what inspires someone like Bradley to make such a deep and lasting commitment to volunteering – to get bitten by the service bug? Service is a two-way street. When done well and thoughtfully, service work benefits a community in need in innumerable ways. But it also. “Repair the world has changed aspects of my life,” Bradley said. “I think about food differently thanks to Philly Farm Crew, and I’m more outgoing now. But the most rewarding aspect is just being there, helping others.”

Check out the cute video Bradley made about his experience volunteering with the Philly Farm Crew.