Friday, January 24, 2014

Thoughts on Behind The Kitchen Door

I finally had a chance to read the UU Common Read book, Behind the Kitchen Door.  It was surprisingly engaging and quick to finish.  Through personal stories and independent research, the author does a great job of capturing the social justice issues wrapped up in the restaurant industry.  It also gave me  a lot to think about.  To think that the federal minimum wage for tipped employees is $2.13, to me is a crime.  I looked up my state, MO, and discovered we were a tiny bit better at $3.75.  How many of us, especially with families, could even imagine living on this?  While tips are expected to make up the difference (at least to $7.50) an hour, there is no guarantee that this will happen, that the house will over the difference, or you can even cover your monthly rent with this *guaranteed* minimum wage.  The author noted the consumers will often think more about where the food is produced, how it is cooked and whether or not the animals are treated ethically more then they will think of the working conditions of the waitstaff, cooks, bussers and dishwashers.  Sadly, I am guilty of this.

I wish the author would have gone into the history of how this type of payment system developed.  After reading the book, I came away with that this whole method needs to be changed.  I remember when I was in Europe (a very long time ago, so maybe this has changed?), but in certain countries, it was considered an insult to tip.  The waiter's salary was not artificial reduced to be supplemented by the generosity of diners.  At the time, it felt very awkward to not tip.  I felt like I was cheating them, even though I was assured that I was not.  I don't know enough about the European restaurant industry to gage how successful/fair this method is, but on the surface, it seems like a great idea.  Why aren't we doing this?  I would much rather pay a flat amount and know that everyone is being paid a fair rate then knowing that I may tip 20% but a friend only tips 10%.  Americans are so used to cheap food, that we all need to realize that it comes at significant human cost.

One other point I will touch on (and there are many more in the book), is the blatant racism.  The author notes that in fine dining establishments, the farther back you go in a restaurant, the darker the workers.  Basically, the servers tend to be white while the dishwasher are usually black.  Head/Sous Chefs may be white, but line cooks are African American or darker skinned immigrants.  Hostess are white American or white European.  Frankly, I can count on one hand the amount of times I have been in a white table-cloth restaurant (the phrase the author uses).  From what I remember, the wait staff was white.  But, I live in a very diverse city and if I go to a casual dining restaurant, my server is almost always African American.   I am not sure where I am going with this, except that I hadn't really thought about it because the restaurants I do go to, the staff is very diverse at all levels.  Also, I feel that the racism experienced at fancier establishments comes from a much greater level of institutional racism that goes beyond the restaurant industry.  It would be wonderful if the restaurant industry could take the lead in chipping away at those offensive, long-held systems of discrimination.  Restaurant Opportunity Centers United is certainly trying, now it is up to us to help them.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Non-Denom vs. UU Christmas Eve Service

We headed to my mom's house in Iowa for Christmas this year.  While there, we went to her and my step-dad's church for Christmas Eve services.  It was an experience.  When I was growing up, my family was a member of the only Catholic Church in town and that is all we experienced.  Since then, my mother remarried, dropped Catholicism (which, really, was my dad's religion), and began attending a non-denominational church with her husband.  From what I remember of Iowa in the 80s and early 90s, the was no such thing as a mega church and people would have looked at you funny if you said you went to one. Things have changed.

I had no idea this church existed in Cedar Falls.  In fact, it isn't the only one.  We drive up to it, but because it is so dark and snowy out, I couldn't really see the building in all its enormity.  I came to realize that it actually had a traditional sanctuary (I was told, used by the more traditional folks), but the majority of the services are conducted in this gym like room set up with a sound system, flat screen TVs, and a stage.

The kids loved it.  First, the setting couldn't  have been more perfect: snowy and cold.  The moment we walked in we were greeted by friendly folks and the entry was decorated with more snowflakes.  Then the heavenly (no pun intended) smell of hot chocolate and fancy coffee wafted by. They had a coffee bar!!!!!  We then walked into the new-sanctuary to find it decked out in Christmas lights and a stage with a winter-wonderland theme.  On each side of the stage, there were TVs airing *ads* for Christmas and playing music.  After we got our drinks and settled into our folding chairs, the evening service began. First, a band of hipster looking twenty-somethings came out and performed some meaningful/catchy music.  Between their sets, sermons and testimonials were given by the ministers.  While the ministers were definitely not twenty-something, they had a youthful exuberance about them and gave passionate, funny, yet touching sermons regarding the importance of Jesus and Christmas.  The service ended with familiar carols while the congregation lit candles.  With approximately 800 people in attendance, the candle light was beautiful.  My youngest son (9y/o) turned to me and said, "this is a lot more fun then our church"!

He was right.  For pure entertainment value, it was more fun.  We all had a good time and all left with a warm feeling. I can so easily see why people like these places.  You immediately feel welcome, that people care, and are swept up into the belief that something larger then yourself is looking out for you.  Sure life is hard, but you are not alone - you matter.  Who wouldn't want that?  They tread a fine line of not diminishing your hurt while also being relentlessly positive. 

It was disturbing to me to see how easily I could be "let me join!" I don't even like flashy spectacles, but the it was more then that.  They don't even know me, but I felt like they only want the best for me.  My kids felt that too.  Of course, they don't really want me and I don't really want them.  The beautiful charade hides the repressive, conservative faith they truly follow.  If I was LGBT, or pro-choice, or a non-biblical literalist, or pro-women, or one of the many of the other things they deem un-Christian, I would not be truly welcome.  They would welcome me with arms intent on converting, not accepting or meeting me where I was. 

As UUs, we do preach welcome and acceptance.  Somehow, though, the message isn't getting through. I have been to many UU Christmas Eve services.  They have been lovely with signing and acknowledging the season, but they haven't been passionate.  They have felt more like an obligation, not because it was something the congregation or minister really wanted to do.  I am pretty sure that if I was attending a UU service for the first time, my first thought wouldn't be "let me join!".

I wish I had some great ideas on how to change this.  I would suggest that sometimes, perhaps, we take ourselves a little too seriously.  Dare I say that sometimes our services (and I am broadening this discussion to regular Sunday services) are a little too stodgy.  In an effort to be seen as a *real* religion, we have limited our thinking to a more traditional program that is unappealing to those who are trying to leave it behind?  It is a hard balance between solemnity and joy, but we might take a look at those mega-churches because they have seemed to have found it.