Peeking Behind the Kitchen Door: The Struggle for Food Justice in America’s Restaurant Industry

 Peeking Behind the Kitchen Door

by David J. Leonard

Last month, Michelle Obama visited a Springfield, Mo., Walmart to celebrate and highlight its efforts to help Americans eat healthier. Mrs. Obama announced, “For years, the conventional wisdom said healthy products just didn’t sell… Thanks to Walmart and so many other great American businesses, we’re proving that conventional wisdom wrong.” If only this neoliberal logic delivered as promised. As with Michael Bloomberg’s cola crusade, the narrow focus on food choices, individual behavior (“Get Fit”), and healthy lifestyles obscures the structural inequalities that contribute to health inequity.

While Walmart MAY have led to great access to organic foods or fresh fruits and vegetables in some communities, it also contributes to the very conditions that make “healthy living” difficult. Stacy Mitchell notes the deleterious impact of Walmart and other members of the food industry’s 1 percent:

The real effect of Walmart’s takeover of our food system has been to intensify the rural and urban poverty that drives unhealthy food choices. Poverty has a strong negative effect on diet… Walmart has made it harder for farmers and food workers to earn a living. Its rapid rise as a grocer triggered a wave of mergers among food companies, which, by combining forces, hoped to become big enough to supply Walmart without getting crushed in the process.

The fight over injustice is not limited to these mega companies. The destructive impact the food industry has on the health and well-being of people across this country (and beyond) extends beyond the fields and super markets. It is most certainly evident in the treatment of restaurant workers,

In a new book entitled Beyond the Kitchen Door, Saru Jayaraman highlights the harmful impact of the restaurant industry on the health, economic security, and lives of those who cook, serve, and provide for US. Jayarman paints a picture of a restaurant world defined by exploitation, mistreatment, and abuse. It is a world not simply of delicious foods and celebrity chefs, but of workers, moms and dads, scraping by just to make ends meet.

Saru Jayarman pulls the curtain back on restaurant work, highlighting the struggles endured on the dining room floor. Far from the glamorous world of Top Chef or the joys of being a foodie, restaurant work is both hard and poorly compensated. As of 2013, federal minimum wage for tipped workers is $2.13 an hour. When tips don’t net the mandated $7.25 (current federal minimum wage), restaurants are supposed to make up the difference. Not shockingly, this doesn’t happen in many cases. According to the book (pg. 70), 13 percent of restaurant workers report managers stealing their tips. Others note how restaurant supervisors require them to report larger tip counts to create the illusion of an earned minimum wage. Jayarman tells the story of Claudia, a server at a pancake restaurant in Texas. Enduring racism from customers, she also did not receive sufficient tips on many occasions (one has to wonder how racism, sexism, and homophobia impact tips). The combination of her tip count and her wage left her income under the federally mandated amount. Instead of making up the difference, a manager told her, “If you don’t make enough tips to make up the difference, you have to report that you made the money anyway.” In other words, her poverty wages were often way below poverty level.

In another instance, one of Claudia’s tables walked out on their bill of $98 dollars. “She told me that it was my fault, and that I’d have to pay the bill. I had made $80 dollars in tops that night,” noted Claudia. “So after tipping out the bussers and the dishwater, the manager took all my tips and told me I still owed the restaurant $18. I had worked from 10:00 p.m. until 9:00 a.m. — though I clocked out at 7 a.m. — and instead of paying me anything, they were telling me I had to pay them.” It is no wonder that 80 percent of food service workers do not earn a livable wage (pg. 3); of the few that do earn a living wage, a large portion are white men who work at upscale restaurants (pg. 117). This is the American Dream; this is American poverty; this is restaurant work. These men and women are the 47 percent, the “takers,” who despite serving the 1 percent, alongside the rest of us, get little in return but grief, mistreatment, and disrespect.

Continue reading at Dr. David J. Leonard: Peeking Behind the Kitchen Door: The Struggle for Food Justice in America’s Restaurant Industry.

NewBlackMan (in Exile): Baseball’s “Puppy Mill”?: ‘Pelotero’ and the Dominican Connection

Baseball’s “Puppy Mill”?: ‘Pelotero’ and the Dominican Connection

by David J. Leonard | NewBlackMan (in Exile)

Sports films are a staple within American culture. From the Hollywood imagination to documentaries, there has been a longstanding interest in sporting cultures. Offering a window into fundamental American tropes and ideologies – meritocracy; bootstraps; rages to riches; the American Dream – sports films fill the insatiable desire for stories of perseverance, redemption, and possibility. Pelotero, a new documentary narrated by John Leguizamo, enters into this larger cultural landscape, highlighting the dreams and nightmares of global baseball.

Pelotero sets out to answer a simple yet immensely complex question: how can a country the size of the Dominican Republic, with only 2% of the population of the United States, produce so many professional baseball players? In 2010, 86 of MLB’s 833 players come from the Dominican Republic; almost 25% of the 7,000 minor league players hailed from this nation of 9.7 million people. The film’s directors, Ross Finkel, Jon Paley, and Trevor Martin describe their goal as follows:

The central question behind Pelotero was a simple one: Why are Dominicans so good at baseball? The tiny island nation is consistently overrepresented in the Major Leagues, and as America’s pastime continues to globalize, every year brings a fresh crop of young Dominican Peloteros to the top levels of the game. We had a romantic image of these players’ humble beginnings etched in our minds; poor kids chasing rolled up socks through dusty streets as motorbikes whizzed by. However, that vision of street ball felt disconnected to another romantic idea of Dominican baseball; Big Papi, Sammy Sosa, or Robinson Cano slowly trotting around the bases under the bright lights and cheering fans of a big league ballpark. How does one lead to the other? And what is the story in between the two?

Eschewing cultural arguments, those that emphasize role models and “the single-minded pursuit of baseball” and theories that harken Social Darwinism, Pelotero highlights the social, political and economic contexts that funnel Dominican youth into the professional ranks.

With only two offices throughout the world, one in New York City and the other in Dominican Republic, it is clear that Major League Baseball has focused its efforts on developing future players. The desperation and poverty facing those in the Dominican Republic and throughout the Caribbean and Latin America has produced conditions ripe for American corporations taking advantage of this potential labor force, ultimately exploiting workers (players) inside and outside the United States. The establishment of “schools” – baseball’s sweatshops that produce its raw materials – has exacerbated this process.

Beyond filling the League with talented ball players, Major League Baseball teams use the “third world” because the “raw materials” (the players) are cheap. Dick Balderson, a vice-president of the Colorado Rockies, called this process a “boatload mentality.” The idea behind this approach is to sign a “boatload” of Latin players for less money, knowing that if only a couple make it to the big leagues, teams will still profit from the relationship. “Instead of signing four [American] guys at $25,000 each, you sign 20 [Dominican] guys for $5,000 each.” The desperation and poverty facing those in Latin America is facilitating this “single-minded” pursuit of sports, creating a situation where professional baseball teams are able exploit this labor force.

Charles S. Farrell, who is the former director of Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow Sports, described the dangerous predicament facing youth in the Dominican Republic:

Baseball is mainly the sport of the poor in the Dominican Republic, and viewed by so many as a way to escape poverty. Mothers and fathers put a glove on boys as soon as they can walk in order to pursue the dream of la vida buena.

But with every dream there are dream merchants, those who promise to pave a path to glory and riches for a price. The buscónes, as they are known, latch onto prospects at an early age, giving them advice and consul on how best to pursue the dream. Some are genuine in their mission; others simply hook into a potential meal ticket. Either way, good or bad, the buscónes have become a part of the Dominican baseball scene.

Pelotero highlights the consequences of the overdevelopment of the institutions of baseball alongside the underdevelopment of society at large (thanks in part to the polices of the IMF and World Bank). It elucidates how everyone from scouts to the teams themselves take advantage of the limited economic opportunities, the manipulated (unfree) marketplace, and the imported American Dream to get young 13 and 14 year olds to work hard so that maybe their parents can have a better life. Reduced to commodity, the efforts to sell a dream, a future, and most powerfully freedom/independence (signing day is July 2) to the players and their families are crucial in maintaining this exploitative system. One respondent in the film describes the ways that baseball views these young men: “It’s like when you harvest the land, you put seed on the land, you water it, you clear, and then when it grows, you sell it.”

Continue reading @ NewBlackMan (in Exile): Baseball’s “Puppy Mill”?: ‘Pelotero’ and the Dominican Connection.

NewBlackMan: Jason Whitlock’s Ideal America?

Jason Whitlock’s Ideal America?

by David J. Leonard | NewBlackMan

One of the common arguments offered during the NBA lockout was that David Stern and the owners had to initiate the lockout in an effort to make the league better. Citing the success of the NFL, these advocates predicted that the NBA would be more successful economically, more important culturally, and just a better game if it adopted the rules and policies of the NFL. Such arguments have not died down with the end of the lockout or with the start of the NBA season.

Embodying this logic is Jason Whitlock’s recent column, “NFL is model for American success.” Whitlock argues that NFL is a model of success not just for the NBA, but the nation. With a salary cap, revenue sharing, a requirement that players attend at least three years of colleges, its amateur draft design, its “emphasis on teams over individuals while making room for superstars” and “a free-agent system that allows franchises to retain their marquee players”, the NFL offers “the perfect blend of capitalism and socialism.” He remarks further:

One hundred years from now, when scholars analyze the rise and fall of our dynasty, the NFL might be considered America’s greatest invention, the cultural and economic force that should’ve been our guide to 200 more years of global domination.

If only Pete Rozelle had been our president rather than the architect of the modern-day national pastime, Americans would understand the value of restraints on capitalism, revenue sharing and a system that strengthens the poor.

There is so much wrong with the argument and the analysis that it is hard to know where to start. The idea that the NFL’s age restriction leads to a better or more successful system, even in absence of any sort of evidence, is reflective of Whitlock’s propensity to sell myths as fact. The ample success of NBA players, whether those who skipped college or those who were “one-and-done” ballers, runs counter to the rhetoric offered by Whitlock.

Likewise, the premise that NFL is superior because it emphasizes teams over individuals, which has led to increased fan interest, erases the overall popularity of NBA stars throughout the world. Whereas LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, and Michael Jordan are transnational icons, whose talents generated profits for the NBA and its corporate partners, the same cannot be said for the NFL. Think about it, can you name an NFL player that captures the global imagination?

When Michael Jordan was playing, he was one of the most recognizable people in the world; Kobe Bryant’s visits to Asia lead to mass hysteria. Would any NFL player – past or present – elicit such reactions? Despite the fact that the NBA erases these global realities from its economic picture, the NBA global success is very much a result of its emphasis on individual stars over teams.

Likewise, the ascendance of dynasties within the NBA – Bulls, Lakers, Spurs, Celtics –, which has certainly enhanced the NBA’s brand, is reflective of the structure of the NBA. In many regards, the NBA system is superior even though David Stern and the owners seem intent on slowly undermining what has been successful for the league in so many ways.

What is most striking, however, is Whitlock’s celebration of the NFL as an ideal model for the entire nation. Should the NBA and the nation at large emulate the model provided by the NFL given that: 21 former NFL players recently sued the NFL for not protecting players against the harms of concussions. In the lawsuit, they “accuse the NFL of deliberately omitting or concealing years of evidence linking concussions to long-term neurological problems.”

Is the NFL the ideal business and social model, given that: according to a 2006 Study in the St. Petersburg Times, for every year an NFL player spends it the league, it takes 3 years off his life expectancy. In other words, given that the average career of an NFL player is 4 years, his life expectancy will be 55 (as opposed to 75, the national average for American males). Put succinctly by Greg Doyle, “The NFL is killing its players, literally leading them to an early grave — and now the NFL is trying to kill them even faster. That’s a fact, people.” While some may call this rhetoric incendiary and hyperbolic, consider that in 2010, almost 280 players spent time on injured reserve, with 14 suffering head injuries, 13 experiencing neck injuries, and one dealing with spine injury.

continue reading @ NewBlackMan: Jason Whitlock’s Ideal America?.

Why the NCAA Should Pay Student-Athletes and Pay Them Fairly (Part 2 of 2) | Urban Cusp

Why the NCAA Should Pay Student-Athletes and Pay Them Fairly (Part 2 of 2)

By David J. Leonard

UC Columnist

Beyond graduation rates and the compromised quality of the education provided in exchange for athletic participation, it is crucial to think about the overall value of an education and degree in the twenty-first century. Remember, this is the unit of exchange. The national unemployment rate for college graduates is roughly 5%. While significantly lower than those without a college degree (or a high school diploma), the increased unemployment amongst college graduates along with underemployment illustrates the increasingly shrinking value of a scholarship. Worse yet, the 5% unemployment rate includes all college graduates, a figure of limited value when reflecting on compensation levels of current and future student-athletes. In “Jobless College Graduates Struggle Under Ongoing Recession” Amanda Fairbanks and Andrew Lenoir elucidate the profound issues facing today’s college graduates:

College graduates still fare better than their peers with only a high school diploma, but even their job prospects show signs of fatigue. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Current Population Survey, the unemployment rate for college graduates between the ages of 20 to 24-year-olds soared five percentage points in the past month — from 7.1 percent in May to 12.1 percent in June, compared with a three percent jump during the same period last year.

The rates of unemployment, the limited opportunities in career-track jobs, and heightened underemployment are all evident in the number of college graduates moving back home upon graduation. Since the recession began in 2007, there has been a 25% increase in students moving back home after college. As the value of college education has declined, the profits within collegiate sports have grown dramatically, illustrating the growing gap between revenue generated and the level of compensation provided to “student-athletes.” It points to the heightened level of exploitation, so much so that it might be time to renamed the NCAA: NEAA – National Exploitation Athletic Association.

Sports, particularly basketball and football, and its athletes generate millions for the NCAA, its representative schools, coaches, and a number of corporate partners. It is a billion dollar industry. Yet, the wages paid are dubious at best and the value of that compensation is in steady decline. This becomes even more striking as we focus our attention on the disproportionate number of African American student-athletes within revenue sports. The level of exploitation is certainly aggravated by the amounts of money generated by these athletes within these sports. Worse, yet given the continued significance of race, the level of compensation provided to black “student-athletes” is that much worse. The unemployment rate for black college graduates over 25 is almost twice the national average for blacks compared to whites (8.4 versus 4.4)

Michael Luo, with “In Job Hunt, College Degree Can’t Close Racial Gap,” highlights the grim economic prospects facing black graduates.

But there is ample evidence that racial inequities remain when it comes to employment. Black joblessness has long far outstripped that of whites. And strikingly, the disparity for the first 10 months of this year, as the recession has dragged on, has been even more pronounced for those with college degrees, compared with those without. Education, it seems, does not level the playing field — in fact, it appears to have made it more uneven.

Presumably worse for those recent college graduates, the value of scholarship for a black “student-athlete” remains in steady decline even as coaches salaries and television contracts have skyrocketed. Attributable to persistent discrimination, denied access to social networks, and other issues, black college graduates face a bleak future upon the conclusion of school.

Continue reading at Why the NCAA Should Pay Student-Athletes and Pay Them Fairly (Part 2 of 2) | Urban Cusp.

Social Justice: Class Projects

Do you know where the ingredients come from? Do you know the work conditions that produce these ingredients. Check out the projects from students in my class.  They set out to examine the commodity origin stories of several popular items, breaking down and documenting the origins/conditions of a myriad of products.  Check out their excellent and thoughtful work

Mocha-Vanilla Latte

Chocolate Chip cookies

Valentine’s Day

Under the Christmas tree


Fruit Salad

Hamburger and Milkshake

Hot Fudge Sundae



Dave Zirin: DON’T Give the Miami Hurricanes the Death Penalty: Give it to the NCAA | The Nation


DON’T Give the Miami Hurricanes the Death Penalty: Give it to the NCAA

Dave Zirin

August 18, 2011

Thursday morning’s cover of USA Today blared the two words on everyone’s lips: “the death penalty.” No, this isn’t because Texas Governor Rick Perry – who just loves executin’ innocent and guilty alike – is now running for President. It’s the fate that most people believe awaits the storied football team at the University of Miami. The death penalty means that the NCAA will for an indeterminate time shut down the entire Hurricanes program. It’s a brutal, financially crippling fate that many believe Miami has more than earned, following a Yahoo Sports expose by Charles Robinson which detailed eight years of amateur violations that would make Dennis Rodman blush. A mini-Madoff financial criminal named Nevin Shapiro, currently serving 20 years behind bars, offered prostitutes, payola, jewelry, yacht parties and every possible South Beach excess for the Hurricane players. While corrupting the athletic program, he was simultaneously being feted by school President, former Clinton cabinet member Donna Shalala and Hurricanes athletic director Paul Dee. They even let him on two occasions lead the team out of the tunnel on game day.

This bombshell has the moral majority of sports journalists in full froth, rushing to the barricades to defend amateur sports. We have people like Sporting News columnist David Whitley, to use merely one example, writing, “The only way to make Miami behave is a long timeout. No more football, smoke and parties for a couple of years. Nothing else has a chance of ending the culture of corruption that is The U.” He even calls Miami “the Ben Tre of college football”, writing, “American forces wiped out the village to get rid of the Viet Cong, prompting a timeless explanation from the U.S. commander: ‘It became necessary to destroy the town to save it.’ The only way to save Miami is to destroy it, stripper pole and all.” But like the war in Vietnam, not to mention the actual death penalty, the call for the NCAA to shut down the program is dead wrong. As with capital punishment, eliminating the Hurricanes is an exercise in hypocrisy that does nothing but ensure these scandals will happen again and again.

What this scandal should produce, instead of the isolation and destruction of one program, is a serious reflection on the gutter economy that is college athletics. Players cannot be paid openly and legally so instead we get the amoral wampum of “amateur sports.” Reading the Yahoo Sports story, it’s difficult to not be chilled by the casual misogyny detailed as strippers, “escorts” and hookers were purchased and handed to players like party favors. You wonder why over 80% of NFL players get divorced after retirement. It’s because as teenagers, they are mentored by parasites like Nevin Shapiro who show them that women are the exchange value for their lucrative labor. This kind of gutter economy also has an ugly echo in old slave plantations, as the prized sports specimens in the antebellum South were handed women by the masters in return for their athletic prowess. Or as David Steele wrote earlier this week, ”Of course, America’s tender little feelings will be bruised if this is equated to slavery, or a plantation economy, or a plantation mentality. Fine. Maybe it can live with a metaphor like sharecropping. You do all the work, we take all the profits, we compensate you with the bare necessities of life, and tough break if you don’t like it.”

The metaphor works because once you wave away the smoke and hot air, this is about jock sniffing criminals and corrupted college Presidents taking advantage of primarily poor African Americans from the South, who see everyone getting paid but them. One anonymous University of Miami player told Yahoo Sports about University running back Tyrone Moss, who took $1,000 from Shapiro. “The guy had a kid while he was in college, a little Tyrone Jr.,” the player said. “He comes in poor as [expletive] from Pompano and he’s got a little kid to feed. I could barely feed myself. I can’t imagine having to feed a kid, too. Of course he’s going to take it when someone offers him $1,000. Who wouldn’t in that situation?”

via/continue reading at DON’T Give the Miami Hurricanes the Death Penalty: Give it to the NCAA | The Nation.

David Steele: College athletes used, abused by NCAA system – NCAA Football – Sporting News

College athletes used, abused by NCAA system

David Steele

Are you happy, Nevin Shapiro? You, University of Miami athletic department? You, NCAA? You, College Football Nation?You’ve made Luther Campbell look like a paragon of virtue in comparison.Much of the allegations of impropriety happened while Paul Dee was the AD at Miami.

You all had various obligations and responsibilities to the welfare and progress of the members of the Miami football and basketball teams. All of you abandoned them.

Those young men – actually, boys in some cases, since the actions described in that damning Yahoo! report Tuesday were sometimes initiated with high school recruits – should have been able to use you for guidance to help them move to the next stage of their lives. Instead, you all used them. You bought, sold and traded those human beings, calculated the costs and benefits of your expenditures and raked in the profits.

In short, you all displayed scruples and values that are somewhere beneath those of the guy who wrote and performed “Me So Horny.’’

Uncle Luke did get a previous version of “The U’’ in trouble, for sure, with allegations of bounties and cash payouts. But, as he pointed out Wednesday in his own blog for the Miami New Times, he was not a booster for the school when he did it, didn’t have direct access to the halls of power as he did it. His connection was lower on the ladder. On the bottom rung, as far as the sport is concerned.

Laugh if you want at his claim that he “dedicated part of his life to helping kids in Miami’s inner city neighborhoods get a college education.’’ He sure gave more of a damn about the welfare of those players than Shapiro did. Or, for that matter, anyone else connected to the Miami program. Or anyone else in college football, or anyone else who follows the sport.

Shapiro bared his tainted soul in a series of jailhouse interviews for Yahoo, detailing how he indulged his deepest jock-sniffing desires for nearly a decade by throwing money at Miami players, utterly unconcerned about whether school officials knew. Oh, and how he funded it by robbing investors in a $930 million Ponzi scheme.

via College athletes used, abused by NCAA system – NCAA Football – Sporting News.