Posts Tagged ‘Fast food’

Food Justice

December 5, 2013

I had never heard of the concept of “food justice” before receiving e-mail from Moveon.org.

Dear David, 

I’m Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma, In Defense of Food, and Cooked. For many years now, I’ve been passionately outspoken about the food justice movement, and low-wage workers represent a key front in the fight for fair and just food.

That’s why I hope you’ll join me and millions of MoveOn members across the country in expressing solidarity with the fast-food workers going on strike for fair wages today. 

Those of us working in the food movement often speak of our economy’s unhealthy reliance on “cheap food.” But cheap food only seems cheap because the real costs of its production are hidden from us: the exploitation of food and farm workers, the brutalization of animals, and the undermining of the health of the soil, the water, and the atmosphere.

As a society, we’ve trapped ourselves in a kind of reverse Fordism. Instead of paying workers well enough so that they can afford good, honestly-priced products—as Henry Ford endeavored to do so that his workers might afford to buy his cars—we pay them so little that the only food they can afford is junk food destructive of their health and the environment’s.

If we are ever to right this wrong, to produce food sustainably and justly and sell it at an honest price, we will first have to pay people a living wage so that they can afford to buy it. Let’s start with the people who work so hard to feed us.

Please stand with the brave fast-food strikers by sharing this image on Facebook.

In solidarity,

Michael Pollan

P.S. There are nearly 100 fast-food worker rallies at 12:30 p.m. local time all across the country today. Head over during lunch and show your support in person. Click here to find a rally near you.

Henry Ford did not decide to pay his workers the then exorbitant wage of $5 per day solely out of humanitarian concerns for his workers. He wanted to eliminate the heavy turnover in his factories and to attract the best workers he could. It was a shrewd business decision on his part that also gained him a great deal of good publicity. There was a slightly dark side to his benevolence. The $5 a day wage only applied to workers who had six months employment at Ford’s factories and were of good moral character. Ford’s Social Department investigated workers’ personal lives to ensure that they qualified.

But enough of Henry Ford. Mr. Pollan’s argument is that we must pay fast food workers higher wages so that they can afford to buy higher priced sustainable food to eat instead of the crap they are already eating. I am not sure he has the best interests of those workers in mind, however. I am not sure too many of these workers are all that interested in sustainable food. They, quite naturally, would prefer to be paid higher wages. Now, the question is, is there labor worth the higher wages? Ford’s factory workers proved to be worth the high wage he paid them, other wise Ford would have had to discontinue the program or go out of business. Ford was trying to attract skilled workers as well as unskilled workers willing to work on an assembly line for 8-12 hours a day. Not many fast food workers can be classified as skilled labor. Many of them do not have all that much in skills or experience to offer an employer, otherwise they would be working elsewhere. The question is, will doubling their wages result in increased productivity that will increase the value of the company that employs them. If yes, than they will do well.

If no, than the company will have to increase prices, considering that people go to fast food restaurants because the food is fast and cheap, and no for the fine dining experience, there may be limits on how much they can raise prices. They can also reduce expenditures. The company can close stores that are no longer profitable. They can decide not to hire as many people and to automate as much as possible. It may well turn out that the fast food workers that Mr. Pollan claims to care about will find themselves hard pressed to afford junk food, much less the sustainable food he wishes them to eat.

I can understand why supporting higher wages for fast food workers is popular, both politically and emotionally. It feels good to support the little guy, the hard-working people who aren’t being rewarded properly for their efforts. It costs nothing, since you do not have to worry about how the companies are going to handle the increased payroll expenses. Indeed, you can simply assume that the companies have infinite amounts of money to spend or that they need not show a profit. But, feeling good does not necessarily make good policies. You must consider the consequences. Even the most well-intentioned policies can have disastrous consequences and hurt the people they are meant to help.

 

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The Future of Fast Food

November 14, 2013

While automation has eliminated many jobs in the manufacturing sector of the economy, so far the service sector, especially the fast food industry has remained labor intensive, employing hosts of young and unskilled workers. That may be changing, however. Perhaps the future of fast food can be found at Bolt Burgers, a new restaurant in Washington D. C. What makes Bolt Burgers a little different is that when the restaurant opens, the process of ordering and getting your food will be as computerized and automated as possible. The Washington Post has the story.

No restaurant in D.C. has been better outfitted for the iPhone generation than the forthcoming Bolt Burgers. It is a restaurant full of screens — touchscreen systems for ordering your food and making your drinks, tablets at every table, and a 16-foot-wide projected TV screen to watch while you wait for your order.

You can order food without having a single interaction with another human being, which, for millennials who prefer texting and online ordering through Seamless to picking up the phone, is a major plus.

Michael Davidson, Joe Spinelli and other partners at Bolt Burgers are banking on it. When the 3,200-square-foot restaurant opens by Thanksgiving at 1010 Massachusetts Ave. NW, they’ll have put more than 18 months into perfecting the computer systems behind Bolt, a concept they plan to franchise.

There are several ways to order a Bolt burger, and one of them can be done from your office. An online pre-ordering system will allow customers to order in advance for both take-out and dine-in: Give the server your order number when you arrive and, if all goes according to plan, your food will be at your seat within 10 minutes.

If you haven’t pre-ordered, a server will present you with a table number if you plan to dine in. Use that to place your order at one of the touchscreen kiosks, or through the touchscreen tablet at your seat.

One of the technological centerpieces of Bolt Burgers is a no-flip burger grill. The device can cook a six-ounce burger in exactly three minutes, to the exact same level of doneness every time. It can make 1,200 burgers an hour. “I think it’s fantastic,” said Clayton. “I have the confidence that the guy at the grill will hit a button and get a perfect burger every time.”

The restaurant’s opening, in approximately three weeks, will depend on getting all of its systems up and running. “There’s a lot of complicated electronics that have to work,” Davidson said. When Bolt opens, it will seat about 80 people indoors and about 40 on the patio. It’s located in an area near the D.C. convention center that doesn’t yet have much competition — until the restaurants in the new Marriott Marquis open, at least — but is at the intersection of daytime workers, evening residents and out-of-town guests.

I don’t expect to see McDonald’s or Taco Bell doing anything like this soon. The costs of retooling and automating their restaurants would, at present, be far greater than any benefits they might gain from reducing their workforces. That could change if well meaning activists manage to have the minimum wage increased or making fast food restaurants pay their workers a living wage. Then,we could see a lot more places like Bolt Burgers opening up. I know that trying to make a living on $7 an hour is not much fun, but it is better than making $0 an hour, which might very well happen. It is not enough to be well meaning. You have to consider consequences.

 

Fast Food Strike

July 30, 2013

Employees at some fast food restaurants are planning to walk off the job to demand higher wages. Read about it here at Fox News.

Workers at the nation’s best known fast-food restaurants in seven cities across America are planning to walk off the job Monday to protest what they say are wages that are too low to live on. In a move orchestrated with the help of powerful labor unions and clergy groups, the workers plan to strike for a day to demand their wages be doubled.

The Washington Post reports that the protests will take place in New York City, Chicago, Detroit, Milwaukee, St. Louis, Kansas City, and Flint, Mich., involving workers at McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s and KFC. Some employees at stores including Dollar Tree, Macy’s and Victoria’s Secret are also expected to join the protesters in several cities.

The workers are calling for wages of $15 per hour, more than double New York’s current minimum wage of $7.25.

A network of local community groups, clergy and unions, including the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), are backing the strike.

“SEIU members, like all service-sector workers, are worse off when large fast-food and retail companies are able to hold down wages and push benefit standards for working people,” Mary Kay Henry, president of the Service Employees International Union, told the Washington Post.

In New York City, the protests were organized by a group called Fast Food Forward, which states its Twitter account: “No one can survive on $7.25.”

“A lot of the workers are living in poverty, you know, not being able to afford to put food on the table or take the train to work,” Fast Food Forward director Jonathan Westin told CBS New York. “The workers are striking over the fact that they can’t continue to maintain their families on the wages they’re being paid in the fast-food industry.”

The group posted a photograph on its Twitter account early Monday depicting workers who have “walked out” in New York.

Fast-food workers in New York City earn an average salary of $11,000 annually. That’s less than half of the average daily salary — $25,000 — for most fast-food restaurant CEOs. Employees in the $200 billion industry make 25 percent of the money they need to survive in New York City while working at fast-food restaurants, according to the group’s website.

I sympathize with these people. Working in a fast food restaurant is an unpleasant job and they don’t get paid what they really deserve. The trouble is that no one gets paid what is actually fair. They get paid according to how much their labor is worth. There is no shortage of people qualified to work at McDonald’s and given the present unemployment rate, I doubt that McDonald’s is having too much trouble finding people to staff its restaurants. These factors tend to keep wages low. On the other hand, it may be unfair that a corporate CEO is paid more in one day than many are paid in a year, but there are not that many people who have the skills and experience to be a CEO. If you try to pay a CEO according to what might be fair, you may find it extremely difficult to attract somebody who is actually qualified, as Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream discovered.

Also, I don’t  about the finances or profitability of these restaurants but it may be that their profit margins are slim enough that they cannot pay their employees much more without suffering losses. Most people do not go to fast food restaurants like McDonald’s for the fine dining experience. They go because the food is cheap and fast, so places like McDonald’s cannot raise their prices by very much, or they will lose customers and money. I am afraid that if these employees force matters, they may find out the hard way that while it is difficult to live on $7.25 an hour, it is far more difficult to live on $0 per hour.

I know this might sound harsh, but we must deal with the world as it is, not as we might like it to be. The simple truth is that your employer is not obliged to pay you a “living wage”. They are only required to pay you what your labor is worth, and sometimes they don’t do even that. If you are trying to live on minimum wage, then you need to take stock of your life and decide what skills and experiences you can acquire that an employer is willing to pay a decent wage for and then figure out how you can acquire them. This is not easy. In fact, it is very difficult, but it may be the only way you can get ahead. You will never get ahead by complaining how unfair life is, or how unfair the other guy was born with more opportunities than you have had. It is unfair, but we each must make the most of what opportunities are given to us.

 


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