Food, Its Contents & Its Discontents

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Alex Reynolds/NPR

We appreciate that an immigrant restaurant owner has the courage to state the unpopular but important facts underpinning one of the popular memes of our time (thanks as always to the salt over at National Public Radio in the USA):

Cheap Eats, Cheap Labor: The Hidden Human Costs Of Those Lists

by Diep Tran

Everyone loves a cheap eats list. A treasure map to $1 tacos! $4 banh mi! $6 pad Thai! More often than not, the Xs that mark the cheap spots are in the city’s immigrant enclaves. Indeed, food media is never so diverse as when it runs these lists, its pages fill with names of restaurateurs and chefs of color.

These lists infuriate me.

Before I became a restaurant owner, I spent my childhood in my relatives’ pho restaurants. Because of that, I have deep compassion for and understanding of the pressures facing immigrant restaurateurs.

I watched my aunts and uncles work 16-hour days, only to charge cut-rate prices for their food. And I also witnessed the grueling hours that their employees put in, also at cut-rate wages. It is a cruel reality that immigrant enterprise is powered by the cheap labor of fellow immigrants.

Restaurant workers are already among the lowest paid workers in America. Many full-time workers rely on public assistance to make ends meet. Often enough, restaurant workers could not afford to eat at the restaurants where they work. And at the bottom of this system are the employees of the restaurants on these cheap eats list.

American enterprise has long been a gateway to the American dream for many immigrants. But much of it was also built on exploited labor. Enslaved African-Americans built Southern plantations. Chinese immigrant workers built the railroads. Latino migrant farm workers are the backbone that turned California into America’s agricultural powerhouse…

Read the whole story here.

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