On Burning Matchsticks and Wondering How Long It Will Take the Restaurant Industry to Recover

The Intelligence Brief is our weekly compendium of food and drink news sourced from outlets all over the world, including right here at home.

As we enter into the fourth week of the province’s phase 3 restart plan, we’re reminded that the fight against Covid is far from over. This past Friday, BC saw the biggest single day jump in confirmed cases since May 8th. There’s new indicators of possible community spread as a number of cases popped up at Vancouver bars and nightclubs, as well as at several establishments in Kelowna. In this moment, we are also hearing hospitality workers’ calls for accountability as they continue to share stories of racism, misogyny, transphobia, homophobia and toxic work cultures across the industry. Today we return our attentions to both of these stories as well as the ongoing impact of the global pandemic.

First up, as the facemask continues to be a point of political “debate” rather than….ya know, proven science and public health, restaurant workers bear the brunt of customers’ refusals to comply:

“The social contract has changed in the most straightforward of ways: By going to a restaurant now, you agree to take reasonable measures to avoid making workers sick. They, in turn, agree to do the same. To argue against any of this is to simply say you do not care about the welfare of other people. You do not care if someone else gets sick, becomes unable to work, or worse. By refusing to wear a mask, you say that your perceived comfort is more important than another human being’s safety.”

CW: Racism and racist language. For those that think the dangerous ridiculousness surrounding mask-wearing is only being suffered by our neighbours to the south, think again. It’s happening in Canada, too.

Both at home and abroad, we have seen that poultry workers have been particularly vulnerable during the pandemic. Mother Jones explains why.

A new survey from Restaurants Canada concluded that it may take the industry more than a year to recover from the current pandemic. Given that timeline, you’d think maybe the industry would take a pause to listen to the many, many calls for accountability and reflect on how its foundations, culture, policies and practices can change moving forward.

In just the past month alone, some local restaurants and cafes have been called out for toxic, racist, misogynistic and homophobic work environments, with Belgard Kitchen notably and deservedly taking heat for the racism of one of its owners (and other faults they’ve glibly described as “blind spots in their operation”) and the founders of Matchstick Coffee Roasters leaving their own company after several past and present employees took to Instagram to tell heartfelt horror stories about what it was like to work there.

Hospitality workers across several US cities have also been coming forward with their own experiences of racism, sexism and toxic workplaces, calling for a deeper reckoning across the industry as a whole.

After Goya Foods president Robert Unanue very publicly praised Trump for his leadership (saying the USA was “blessed” to have him at the helm), many are calling for a boycott of the brand.

Growing calls for accountability have also emerged regarding The Court of Master Sommeliers as the organization – which holds a great deal of power in the wine world – has failed BIPOC wine professionals and has a long history of ignoring their talent.

“Now, BIPOC wine professionals and their allies are demanding that the CMSA board of directors work on diversity and equity within the Court and across the industry. To do so, this elite organization must acknowledge its implicit biases, overhaul its structure, and fix its culture to support an increasingly diverse talent pool — and to stay relevant in a food and drink landscape that is evolving.”

Los Angeles restaurateur Brad Johnson argues that supporting Black-owned businesses is a necessary step that must lead to sustained action and increased opportunities for Black leadership.

“As local companies look to allocate substantial capital toward supporting Black-owned small businesses, and restaurants in particular, these companies should consider adding African-American board members who have had direct experience as operators.”

Black farmers look to reclaim their share of land as US agriculture has systematically denied access for hundreds of years.

“Black people have largely been expelled from the US agricultural landscape. In 1920, nearly a million Black farmers worked on 41.4 million acres of land, making up a seventh of farm owners. Today, only about 49,000 of them remain, making up just 1.4 percent of the nation’s farm owners, and tending a scant 4.7 million acres—a nearly 90 percent loss.”

To learn more about the US government’s systemic racism and discrimination against Black farmers, check out Scene on Radio’s podcast episode “Losing Ground”, as well as the New York Times’ podcast series, 1619.

Folks working in the food industry share how their communities are responding to both the global pandemic as well as ongoing protests against racism and police brutality: Bon Appetit reports.

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