Oral Presentation Session
Reviewed by: Society for the Anthropology of Food and Nutrition
Of interest to: Practicing and Applied Anthropologists, Students
Primary Theme: Social movements
Secondary Theme: Identity and Equity
Restaurants are suddenly at the center of many of the core movements for social change in the United States and elsewhere. This has been especially evident in recent debates about wages, migration, sexual misconduct, and the media. The struggle for a living wage, embodied in the U.S. by the movement to raise the minimum wage to $15, has focused a great deal of attention on fast food restaurants. The question of living wages extends to other restaurants, where kitchen staff work long hours for low wages, while front of the house workers sometimes earn more through tipping. Efforts to end tipping and create greater equality among restaurant workers have been met with resistance from tipped workers and customers and have raised questions about the appropriation of wages by restaurant management. In addition, many restaurant workers are immigrants whose legal status may be subject to sudden changes in public policy on immigration. The restaurant industry may depend on those workers, but policy makers seem determined to undermine the ability of migrant workers to remain in the country. It is perhaps ironic that while immigrants find themselves increasingly in danger of deportation, the representation of their foods in restaurants owned by non-immigrants have given rise to intense debates about who owns and can legitimately represent cultures. Restaurants have also found themselves at the center of debates around sexual misconduct. While the #metoo campaign in the U.S., #BalanceTonPorc in France and similar movements elsewhere have called attention to sexual misconduct in many industries, the revelations in the restaurant industry seem to have been especially significant, challenging the authority of some of the most famous male chefs and restaurateurs. These debates have played out across both traditional and social media, raising questions about the role of restaurant critics and food writers and blurring the distinctions between different kinds of reporting.
While the number of debates that touch on restaurants may be especially intense now, restaurants have long been central to social change, providing sites for challenges to class, gender, and racial hierarchies. This panel explore the reasons why restaurants have been and remain at the center of so many of these important social debates. What is the relationship between race, regional cuisine, national identity, and livable wages at a Southern-themed restaurant in Seattle? How have French women challenged gender hierarchies in professional kitchens in Lyon? What does it mean for Latinx restaurant workers in New Orleans to resist immigration policies that increasingly target them for deportation? In this context of intensified immigration enforcement and xenophobia, how can we make sense of the careers of white chefs whose success depends on “reinterpretation” of immigrant cuisines? What is the responsibility and role of restaurant writers and food media more generally in calling attention to these questions? These and other questions that place deep social conflicts at the core of the restaurant industry will be the focus of this panel.