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Thursday, January 31, 2013

Just a tip

Although I don’t eat out a lot, when I do, I like to support vegan restaurants. And admittedly, when I can, I like to support vegan desserts. I do it for the cause – you know, so they will continue to have vegan desserts – or that is what I tell myself.

I have always tried to tip the wait staff well – over 15% – and give it to them in cash.

But when I saw a video (not vegan, so heads up) put out last year about some of the workers in the “supply chain” of a restaurant, I was appalled.  And I realized maybe just tipping the wait staff was not enough.

In addition to being paid low wages, many restaurant workers don’t have health insurance or any benefits such as sick leave. Clearly it is not just restaurant workers (we know that the plight of farm workers is dire), as this description fits many who work in the service industry, but since we are about food here at Food Empowerment Project, that is what I want to address in this particular blog.

As with many issues facing our society, it is easy to not see what is right in front of us, especially if we don’t want to. Sometimes it takes a disaster to reveal these everyday realities, as was the case with the most recent large hurricane to hit the US.

Hurricane Sandy’s devastation was not as obvious as Hurricane Katrina in revealing inequities in our systems, but as the powerful Atlantic Monthly article “The Hideous Inequity Exposed by Hurricane Sandy” pointed out, some of it was:

Those with a car could flee. Those with wealth could move into a hotel. Those with steady jobs could decline to come into work. But the city's cooks, doormen, maintenance men, taxi drivers and maids left their loved ones at home.

I am a solutions person, and it grieves me that I cannot create solutions for every injustice I encounter, but I always try.

And this is what I have been doing. In addition to tipping the wait person, I ask if they split their tips with the busser and the dish washers. Thus far, I have been impressed with the honesty of the people I have spoken with. For those who do not split, I have either been able to give tips directly to bussers or I have been able to ask the wait staff to give the tip to the dish washer. At many of the smaller restaurants I eat at, they do split the tips – so I try to give them a larger tip. (For the most part, this reflects vegan and/or vegetarian restaurants in the Bay Area, LA area, and a few other states I have traveled in recently. And while I know it sucks when I find out that some vegan restaurants treat their workers pretty badly, too, that’s a topic for another day.)

At one vegan restaurant, I was excited when I heard the wait person push open the door to the back and say, “Guess what, Antonio, you got a tip!”

Now, is this greatly impacting the wages for those workers? Of course not. But I would like to think that it is indeed planting seeds for the restaurant and those who work there that these issues are important and the workers are not hidden behind the kitchen door.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Update on Clif Bar Campaign – January 2013

Thanks to everyone who has signed our petition to Clif Bar and shared with others how this corporation’s lack of transparency is a stain on their so-called sustainability record.

Food Empowerment Project has contacted more than 100 companies asking that they simply disclose the country of origin for where they source their cacao. And more than 100 companies have responded; even if they do not fall on our recommended list, they have at least disclosed.

With more than 70% of the world’s cacao coming from West Africa, where slavery and some of the worst forms of child labor have been found in the cacao industry, our goal is to help consumers be more informed.

Clearly, Clif Bar is not the only company that has not disclosed, but they are definitely on the top of the list when looking at companies that claim social responsibility.

I met with Clif Bar representatives in late September 2012. They stated once again that the country of origin on the ingredients of their products was proprietary information. I asked them to please share with their board that they should take a different stance on cacao, given the controversy surrounding its procurement. 

They encouraged us to speak with Rainforest Alliance about their cacao suppliers. I explained to them that we have companies on our recommended list (regardless of how we feel about their certification scheme) that use Rainforest Alliance. The responsibility of transparency lies solely with Clif Bar.

We had agreed to meet again in six weeks. 

At the end of December, we spoke on the phone for 15 minutes, and I was told that the company has decided that they can reveal the country of origin for all of their ingredients, but that the country of origin for their cacao is still proprietary.

At this point the conversation has ceased, as they are only interested in connecting us with Rainforest Alliance.  

Given the serious nature of slavery and children working under the worst forms of child labor in the cacao industry, this is not an issue that Clif Bar should claim as propriety and hide behind. We need them to take a strong stand against the abuses in the cacao industry. 

We hope that you will continue to help us to encourage Clif Bar to live up to the company image they continue to offer the public.  

Photo ©Romano

UPDATE: Food Empowerment Project Announces Clif Bar Campaign Victory