Apr 9: 7pm “Behind the Kitchen Door” Book Discussion Group

Behind the Kitchen Door: A Book Discussion


How do restaurant workers live on some of the lowest wages in America? And how do poor working conditions—discriminatory labor practices, exploitation, and unsanitary kitchens—affect the meals that arrive at our restaurant tables? Saru Jayaraman, who launched a national restaurant workers organization after 9/11, sets out to answer these questions by following the lives of ten restaurant workers in cities across the country:
New York City, Washington DC, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Houston, Miami, Detroit and New Orleans. Blending personal and investigative journalism, Jayaraman shows us that the quality of the food that arrives at our restaurant tables is not just a product of raw ingredients; it’s the product of the hands that chop, grill, sauté, and serve it, as well as the bodies to whom those hands belong.

Behind the Kitchen Door is a groundbreaking exploration of the political, economic, and moral implications of eating out. What’s at stake when we choose a restaurant is not only our own health or “foodie” experience, but also the health and well-being of the second-largest private sector workforce—the lives of 10 million people, many immigrants and many people of color, who bring passion, tenacity, and important insight into the American dining experience.

About the Author

Saru Jayaraman is the Co-founder and Co-Director of the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United (ROC-United), Co-Founder and Co-Director of ROC, and the Director of the Food Labor Research Center at the University of California, Berkeley. After 9/11, together with the displaced World Trade Center workers, she co-founded ROC in New York, which has organized restaurant workers to win workplace justice campaigns, conducted research and policy work, partnered with responsible restaurants, and launched cooperatively-owned restaurants. ROC now has 9000 members in 19 cities nationwide.

Wed., April 9th, 7-8:30pm
Personal experiences, food justice and ethical eating

What affects you as a restaurant patron – your health and safety, values as a customer, concern for members of your community, the economy?

Wed., April 16th, 7-8:30pm
Wage issues, public health and change possibilities.

Seven of the eleven lowest-paying jobs in the U.S. are in the restaurant industry. What do you think are the underlying structural issues?

Wed., April 23rd,7-8:30pm
Discrimination/Gender/Race/Immigration Status and Ethnicity

What does the book tell us about segregation regarding the front of the house and the back of the house? Why might it be difficult for restaurant workers to come together to advocate for improved conditions and to organize for their rights? What opportunities exist to foster more industry wide “high road” standards?

Wed., April 30th
Visits to local restaurants to chat with workers, management, and to enjoy some food and each other’s company

Books may be purchased On Amazon, ( Kindle price, $9.44, hardcover $17.56 or UUA $21.95 (10% off if 5-10 copies) Two copies have been purchased to share at BBUUC and remember the library! Reading ahead will enhance our meetings, but your experiences with restaurants, either eating or working, will also. The book is an easy read, and can be done in sections as we go along.