Food and politics is not a combination we often think of when we’re biting into a savory dish that we’ve been craving all day. Whether it’s a mouthwatering al pastor taco, a slice of pizza, or a vegan kale salad, the blatant truth is that you can’t separate politics and social movements from your dining choices.
Food- the most common and necessary element of our lives- is so connected to environment, people, history, society and culture, that it’s difficult not to separate the food we eat to the beliefs we have. So true, that researchers have found that they can predict your political affiliation by observing the food you consume and the establishments you frequent.
With massive political upheavals in the last few years, the relationship between food, restaurants, and politics is more apparent than ever. So how has politics shaped everything from the dining experience to restaurant culture? Here we take a look at the biggest political and social movements of the last few years and observe how those movements have changed dining and dining has affected those movements.
In the wake of #metoo reckoning following allegations and convictions of both Bill Cosby and Harvey Weinstein, conversations about the treatment of women in a multitude of industries and professions have become prevalent, with a big focus on the restaurant industry. Since restaurants are already plagued by harsh treatment of employees, the #metoo movement has sparked a national debate about what behavior is acceptable and what needs to change.
How has politics shaped everything from the dining experience to restaurant culture?
Starting with the sexual assault allegations against John Besh and Mario Batali, which led to their departures from their restaurant empires, a number of women have come forward about the misogynistic culture of restaurant kitchens and the detriment it’s had on female hospitality professionals. “ In an environment that has long been known to be stifled with a militaristic approach of “if you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen,” changing the culture toward anybody has been an uphill battle, so it’s no surprise that women asking for more respect in the culinary industry has been met with some resistance and slow progress. The ‘bro’ culture in kitchens is so deeply entrenched that it has become second nature for many of the people who work there.” writes Jen Aggin The Lily.
Many people believe that progress for women in kitchens and restaurant will become a testament to true change in society. When the industry adjusts to meet the lives of women, when the media exposure for women is equal to that of men, and when a kitchen culture stops ignoring bullying and misogyny, it will indicate that a real shift has been made in society, because there are only a number of other work environments where male dominance has existed at the level of the restaurant kitchen. The restaurant industry’s reaction and changes as an #Metoo and #Timesup has an important significance in our society.
Anyone who’s ever set foot in a restaurant knows that immigrant workers are an essential pillar of the workforce. In fact 19 percent of the 700,000 immigrants protected by the DACA program work in the restaurant industry. Therefore, immigration laws and decisions have a major impact on the industry and the overall well being of restaurant operations. With a huge debate around immigration in national politics, restaurants have a big stake in the outcome. Some food producers and restaurants are forced to close their doors when the immigration crackdown becomes more aggressiveand they can not find a workforce willing and able to do the same work.
The issue for the hospitality industry around immigration lies in the fact that over the next decade alone there will be a 14 percent increase in the industry’s workforce, however the U.S born workforce will only grow by 10 percent. Meaning that the industry will continue to depend on immigrant labor to grow and succeed. Sam Toia the President and CEO of the Illinois Restaurant Association explains in The New American Economy, “ Given that the U.S.-born workforce is expected to grow by just 10 percent, that’s many more jobs than the American-born workforce will be able to fill, particularly since the population of 16- to 24-year-olds, who fill many restaurant jobs, isn’t expected to grow at all. In short, says Toia, without immigrants, “the industry would collapse.”
In light of recent political changes that move toward ending DACA, empowering ICE and cracking down on immigration, restaurants across America have come together to find ways to mitigate these political changes. Many restaurants are finding ways to support immigrant organizations, helping to ensure DACA isn’t repealed and trying to advocate for stances toward immigration that are more balanced and fair. With big implications on the future of the restaurant industry, this is an issue restaurant owners and operators are talking about and approaching mindfully.
When it comes to the environment restaurants, especially those run by celebrity chefs are feeling the power of influence they have regarding issues that affect the environment. In an effort to champion the environment and reduce our carbon footprint, restaurants have been working toward significantly reducing waste, eliminating non biodegradable materials, and sourcing ingredients mindfully.
Chefs around the the world have started composting programs with local farms. Celebrity chefs such as Massimo Bottura created a soup kitchen using excess food to feed the hungry and Tom Colicchio has approached change in our food systems at the policy level. Considering the fact that restaurants are accountable for 44 percent of food waste in the world, it’s no surprise the the issues surrounding the environment and restaurants have become the forefront of restaurant dialogue and debate. As the world hopes to mitigate environmental issues both at the micro and macro level, restaurants will continue to set an important example and make landmark changes that can influence both individuals and governments.