Let’s talk about the other, darker side of food

8
177
Crystal Price and her kids at a protest against her firing from a Greensboro Wendy's after Price's union activity.
Crystal Price and her kids at a protest against her firing from a Greensboro Wendy’s after Price’s union activity.

by Eric Ginsburg

There are times, not too infrequently, that turning in a story on my dining exploits feels self-indulgent. In my pursuit of breaking news about new restaurants or breweries opening, there are moments the whole thing feels frivolous.

I’m well aware that most people can’t afford the luxury of eating out with any sort of regularity. More likely they’re pulling something out of the freezer and heating it up, or eating fast food in the car between places they need to be. Most of the time, that’s what my dining habits look like, too.

With this in mind, I intentionally pick places to write about that, for the most part, are on the more affordable end of the spectrum. Because if it’s at all possible, I want for you to be able to enjoy these small pleasures along with me.

SONY DSCDuring these moments of self-doubt, I convince myself that restaurant-based news and reviews have their place, and I believe that. Sometimes I salt in stories about the people in the kitchen, the ones who made your coffee or dreamed up your cocktail. That human element adds some much-needed texture, variety and life to the mix. But I also, once in a while, want to stop and shift gears to address other less sexy and more forgotten aspects of our food systems.

Likely the most important thing to keep in mind is that the Greensboro-High Point metro area is consistently rated as one of the worst — right now it’s at No. 1 — for food insecurity in the nation. It’s a statistic that everyone should already be aware of, but also a horrific figure that we must relentlessly commit ourselves to fixing.

We try to keep the issue at the forefront, frequently highlighting positive efforts to alleviate the problem in all three Triad cities in our news section, soliciting ideas for additional solutions in a cover story earlier this year and we plan to write about food deserts for the cover before the end of 2015. We too, can do more, and it’s about time the crisis graced our food section as well.

But there are other, less sensational or widely recognized components of the local food system and people that remain invisible who deserve recognition.

SONY DSCFood service is precarious work. I’ve barely worked in the industry — a summer of making smoothies at a local shop, a few shifts unpacking boxes at a local grocery store and a brief stint working under the table at a local café — but I did long enough to run for the door, and I’m glad I found one.

Though they deserve much more, let’s take a brief moment to acknowledge the labor of immigrant farmers, poultry processors, truck drivers, warehouse workers, cleaning crews, restaurant servers and hosts, line cooks, third-shift supermarket stockers and countless others who bring food to us. Think of the strained backs from lifting boxes, the exhaustion from standing on your feet all day, the sunstroke from working in the fields and tendinitis from repetitive labor. Not to mention feeling overwhelmed by ungrateful customers, unforgiving bosses, unlikely workers comp and benefits, and unreliable schedules.

And remember, if you can’t afford to tip at least 20 percent when you go out to eat, you actually can’t afford to go out at all.

I spend a lot of time thinking about what people eat and where they do it. In considering who my audience is, I inevitably consider who it isn’t. Are you that woman working at the Guilford County Courthouse I overheard asking her coworker if there is anywhere to eat on High Point Road besides Carrabba’s or Chili’s? I’m trying to reach you. Are you a local Ralph Lauren employee with enough income to eat out but who dines at the company’s cafeteria? Please, keep reading.

Aramark — the food-service business that provides dining services at many colleges, and recently posted an opening for a grill cook at Ralph Lauren — also supplies the Guilford and Forsyth counties. I’m guessing the menu is pretty different than the collegiate and corporate campuses it services.

It’s a good reminder of how food connects all of us. And it’s worth thinking about the people sitting in our jails who are buying snacks from the commissary and creatively assembling their own burritos, cakes and other meals tastier than what’s provided. Some of them, like a friend of mine who was confined to the jail in downtown Winston-Salem for almost a year, will be released when their charges are dropped.

Maybe then they’ll pick up a copy of this paper and decide where to go on date-night based on a profile I’ve written. But more likely, I’m guessing, they might thumb through a copy from the other side of the counter while running a mid-afternoon register.

Next week I’ll return to your regularly scheduled program, but it’s important for all of us to pause once in a while and think about the bigger picture. In food we find family and community, history and heritage, culture and connection. We also find deep pain, hardship and struggle. Let’s keep both realities of this connective tissue present in our minds as we take our next bite.

 

The money that would’ve been spent on a food article this week will go towards buying lunch for someone experiencing homelessness instead.

  • Roch

    “And remember, if you can’t afford to tip at least 20 percent when you go out to eat, you actually can’t afford to go out at all.”

    Perhaps you mean “be prepared” to tip 20 percent, but otherwise, I think that’s hyperbolic. 15 to 18 percent of the pre-tax total is the norm for good service. 20% perhaps for excellent and full service; more for the very best, less if I place my order at a counter, serve myself form a buffet, have to get beverage refills from a drink machine, etc.

    Last night I left a 10% tip and I didn’t much feel like leaving even that. Drink orders were wrong, we had to flag down another waitress when my date wanted another glass of wine, I had to poke around the bus station to find a take-out box for leftovers, and had to go to the cash register to get our check. We had bad service for about the first five minutes and then were abandoned for the rest of our stay, our food delivered by a runner. This was at one of our favorite restaurants where we usually get good service and regularly tip 15 to 20 percent, but no diner should feel that “at least 20 percent” is an obligation, in my opinion. I believe that as a diner and I believed it when I worked any of my half a dozen waiter jobs.

  • 20% or more every time I dine out. No matter how crap the experience. That waiter/waitress doesn’t deserve to take a decent paycheck home bc they had a potentially off night at work.? Who knows another employee might not have shown up causing the floor to be spread thin and a little more chaotic than usual. Is it your contribution to society to hold someone else’s livelihood in your hands, Roach? Thank goodness my pay doesn’t get docked by the peanut gallery every time i make a mistake at work, especially while earning 2.50/hr plus TIPS. Waitresses/waiters can potentially make good money if people aren’t dicks, if the kitchen puts out food right and on time, the restaurant is fully prepped and staffed. But if just one of these things go array, the person waiting on you gets the brunt of it. Most of which is out of there control. So, yes if you cant afford the 20% please stay home.

    • Roch

      Yeah, yeah, yeah. Because I can just fart money into my wallet without any effort so it is therefore to be handed over to people in excess for no good reason other than they expect it. How selfish.

      Grow up, man. I go out to eat to have a good meal and pleasant experience, not to donate to incompetents. I’m no more obligated to pay you 20% for a bad job than you are obligated to “contribute to society” by paying a mechanic who can’t fix your car, a store that doesn’t have your size or Biscuitville for a sausage biscuit when you are a vegan.

      As I wrote, I’ve worked many restaurant jobs and never had the attitude that someone who had a bad experience because of me owed my anything. I go out well-prepared to tip appropriately but if you want a good tip, you need to give me good service to get it. Be a professional. Earn it. Your co-workers can and do. That’s how it works.

      A final note, to further illuminate the selfishness of your opinion: inviting people to stay home if they can’t tip exorbitantly is void of any consideration for the cooks, bussers, dish washers, hostesses, owner and suppliers who would probably strongly prefer that we not say home so that they can get paid for doing their jobs. I’m sure they are fine with patrons tipping at a level commensurate with the service we receive and would disagree with your admonition.

      • master blaster

        just tip your server, dickhead

      • Roch, 20 percent isn’t “exorbitant.” It is part of the assumed cost of eating out. Your meal is only as cheap as it is because the people serving you are being paid a ridiculously low wage. Tipping 20 percent isn’t generous — it’s mandatory.
        Maybe that hasn’t always been the case, but with inflation and increased living costs while wages have stagnated horribly, that is no longer true (and maybe it never was).

      • L

        On the contrary sir, everyone I know who who cooks, busses, washes dishes, hostesses or works as a waitress and knows what it’s like to work those jobs tips 20% minimum. I worked as a waitress for a long time and after that experience I leave 20% even if I was completely ignored at the table because I know how much more work they’re doing than you see, and how hard it is these days to make ends meet as a server. Perhaps you worked service jobs a while ago? You don’t know what your server is juggling behind the scenes and they’re getting paid $2 an hour to do all the dirty back work like vacuum, set tables, dust, mop, take out the trash, polish glassware and dishes for hours before and after customers are around – if you can afford to tip 20% and you don’t, maybe reflect on why holding out on someone who clearly isn’t making much money makes YOU feel empowered and important.

  • ..the selfishness of the opinion coming from a respected chef who has also seen the in’s and out’s of a multitude of kitchens around the area and outside of it and can speak for most of the people that ive worked with saying we’d probably rather not have your business Roach. “if you want a good tip, you need to earn it.” What the fuck is that?!? I have a number of things i would like to say to you about giving a “good tip”, but on the topic of service, again a number of things can go into an unpleasant experience at a restaurant. Unless its so bad you have your food comped, I am pretty sure the cooks, bussers, owners, suppliers, and everybody else you mentioned is still getting their above minimum wage hourly rate. Oh wait, who again gets the brunt of your judgement. Oh thats right, the waitress having to make your half sweet/unsweet tea just right for 2.50/hr…just praying she’s pleased you enough to make it to that oh so magical 20%.

  • …also not ONE of your examples make any sense. A mechanic, vegan at biscuitville,and a store not having your size, is no way even close to comparable. They don’t even make sense on their own ground. You don’t haggle with a mechanic’s labor rate. You also don’t drive to biscuitville for a sausage biscuit if your a vegan, doesn’t even cross your mind i wouldn’t imagine, and if a store doesn’t have your size, pretty sure they can order it. None of these terrible examples have anything to do with a job that makes 5 dollars less than minimum wage and relies on the rest in tips. If you get a blue plate special for 5 bucks, are you really going break down and give a critical analysis to see how much of that dollar they’ve earned. Maybe you should show up with a check sheet, a personal comment card justifying your tip amt. Was the coffee 5 degrees too cold? That will dock ten cents. Did they take 1:15 too long refilling your water, oh thats another nickel. Wait, no lemon?!? That’ll be a quarter…. Oh and there is a recook on the ticket bc of a kitchen error, well thats somehow your fault too, so deduct a buck….