The Intelligence Brief is our weekly compendium of food and drink news sourced from outlets all over the world, including right here at home.
Today marks the beginning of the third week of global protests in response to recent incidents of police violence and brutality against Black communities. Persistent and rising calls for accountability across all sectors have further highlighted significant needs for change within food media and the hospitality industry. This week’s Intelligence Brief will once again focus on some of the changes that have come about as well as how restaurants, bars, and hospitality professionals continue to respond to ongoing protests.
First up, front line restaurant workers are calling BS on the companies they work for as new commitments for corporate donations stand in direct opposition to the ways employees are treated.
“The discrepancy between a company’s behavior and the promises it makes in its press releases isn’t new. Nor is the problem limited to big corporations. But as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to sicken and kill front-line workers, corporate hypocrisy has public life-or-death stakes. In the weeks leading up to the protest wave, workers for companies like McDonald’s and Amazon staged several demonstrations of their own. Their negligent employers put them in danger, they said. They didn’t have enough masks, enough sick leave, enough space to social distance. And they were getting sick.”
Similarly, while the fast food industry is publicly declaring support Black Lives Matter, their statements do little to instill faith that these corporations will back their words up with tangible action, particularly for their own employees.
And speaking of calling BS, while Starbucks quickly proclaimed its solidarity with recent protests, it also informed its employees that they were prohibited from wearing any apparel in support or Black Lives Matter.
Though supporting Black-owned restaurants and businesses is critical, it’s only one action of many crucial steps we should all be taking in this moment: Eater reports.
“Between the pandemic, the protests, and the economic crash that’s disproportionately affected people of color and the food service industry, supporting black-owned restaurants is crucial. But aside from that, everyone agrees that reading a list is the lowest bar to clear when it comes to engagement with black-owned restaurants, and it’s highly likely that after a few weeks, many who promised to add black-owned restaurants into their restaurant rotations will fall back into old patterns.”
In response to restaurants and bars proclaiming their solidarity and support for recent uprisings, a number of Black hospitality professionals from Washington, D.C. spoke to what the industry can do to fight for racial justice on a daily basis.
“It is the sole responsibility of non-Black leaders in the hospitality industry to acknowledge their own role in actively disregarding the local Black community, including their Black staff. Ask yourselves: How do you support Black communities? How have you supported your Black employees? Did you silence their voices? Did you respect and uplift their contributions? Think deeply on this. Examine your role as a non-Black leader. Only then will these businesses build equitable and safe workplaces for their Black staff and their future.” – Erica Christian.
Food media has also come under rightful scrutiny this past week after several Bon Appetit contributors spoke out about the systemic racism experienced by staff working for the publication.
Black Foodie founder Eden Hagos speaks to the issues of white-dominated food media and how the current make-up of the industry leads to both erasure and appropriation.
Hagos launched her site in 2015 as an alternative to mainstream food media in North America, which she said largely features foods with European cultural roots — whereas ingredients from other cultures, such as turmeric or harissa, are often treated as exotic or unusual.
“What often ends up happening is that because food media is so white, you get white personalities introducing ‘ethnic’ foods as if they’re somehow exotic or strange,” culture writer Navneet Alang said on CBC’s Front Burner.
“And they often don’t get people from various cultures explaining not just the food or the cuisine itself but how it fits into a broader culture or broader history.”
Between the global pandemic and recent protests, many are calling on restaurants to use this moment to fundamentally change the way they do business and dismantle systems of racism that pervade the industry.
“Right now, restaurant owners, chefs, and people across the food industry should be at the frontlines with protesters, speaking as loudly about social injustices as they did about the Paycheck Protection Program and unemployment due to COVID-19. They should be fighting just as hard to end systemic racism, poverty, and the inhumane treatment of immigrants as they did to save their businesses, seeing as their entire labor force depends on it. They should become “third places” for protesters. Instead, we see our public dining institutions siding with the same people who fail to protect them time and time again.”
The LA Times explains why critical changes for bars and restaurants must include protections for undocumented workers who have suffered from a system that devalues their work even as their labour upholds the industry as a whole.
“The American restaurant industry hinges on the labor of undocumented workers like Ruiz. The Pew Research Center estimates that about 10% of the industry workforce, or more than a million U.S. restaurant workers, are undocumented; many work in low-pay back-of-house jobs without worker protections.”
Pandemic-impacted restaurants might be desperate for customers right now, but several dozen in Seattle closed this past Friday in support of that city’s Black Lives Matter protests.
Standing in solidarity with recent protests, the employees of Columbus-based restaurant walked off the job after their manager requested that they fill a large catering order for local law enforcement.
Similarly, Allie’s Donuts in Rhode Island have pulled all discounts for police and military until they take action to address racism and injustice.