Today is the sixth annual Blog Action Day, on which bloggers all over the world write about the same theme in order to raise awareness about it. This year the theme is "human rights."
Trying to be a responsible consumer is kind of like singing one of those maddeningly awful kids' songs where you have to keep remembering what got added on in the last verse. You know, the branch on the tree and the tree in the hole and the hole in the ground and the green grass grows all around all around...
I'm really sorry about that. I'll wait while you turn some music on in an attempt to drown out the tune that will be stuck in your head for the next four days.
Anyway, when it comes to eating at a restaurant, for example, there's also a lot to remember if you're trying to be a responsible consumer. You may think you'r totally in the clear once you've found a place you can afford that uses locally sourced ingredients that were grown without pesticides or genetic modification or over-fishing or factory farming, and maybe also runs on solar power and composts its leftovers. You may think that's all there is to it.
But it's not. Those of us who talk sustainable food tend to talk about big picture, long-term consequences, like climate change, and antibiotic-resistant diseases, and how NO ONE KNOWS WHAT'S KILLING ALL THE BEES!!
But there's another thing to make you feel bad about your everyday choices, and it's much more straightforward and close to home: working conditions in the food industry.
Now, the nastier side of where our food comes from has always been tied to unethical treatment of workers in the industry. That hasn't been news since Upton Sinclair's time. But it is an issue that often gets forgotten about or put on the back burner (no pun intended) of the food discussion. Sure, we want to make sure our coffee and our chocolate are Fair Trade Certified, but what about the idea of a fair wage right here in the United States?
It's also not news that that the value of the minimum of wage compared to the rising tide of inflation has been steadily going down for decades, and some of the hardest hit are food workers. At the average American restaurant these problems can range from the eyebrow-raising (servers making $2.10 per hour can easily go home from a slow shift with minimum wage or less) to the downright alarming (undocumented dishwashers be subjected all kind of illegal conditions and pay because they don't exist in the system.)
Wish you could easily find out which restaurants do the best job of paying their workers a fair wage? Don't worry; there's a app for that.
Restaurant Opportunity Centers United, a ten year old organization based out of Manhattan, has made it its mission to "improve wages and working conditions for the nation's restaurant work force." To do this, it has put out a diner's guide, updated every year, with a list of restaurants and how they stack up against labor standards.
The diners' guide now has its own app currently available for select cities that will find restaurants in your area based on search criteria such as paid sick days and opportunity for advancement.
You can also read ROC United's new book, Behind the Kitchen Door, by Saru Jayaraman, an expose on just what's going on in the restaurant world. Sounds like a really uplifting read.
What other human rights issues need to be addressed within our food system?