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Behind the Kitchen Door Hardcover – February 12, 2013

ISBN-13: 978-0801451720 ISBN-10: 0801451728 Edition: 1st

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 208 pages
  • Publisher: ILR Press; 1 edition (February 12, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0801451728
  • ISBN-13: 978-0801451720
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.4 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (87 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #458,082 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


"For all its talk of organic foods and sustainability, the restaurant industry pays little mind to the health and welfare of its own low-wage employees. In this persuasive volume, Jayaraman draws attention to servers, bussers, runners, cooks, and dishwashers across the country 'struggling to support themselves and their families under the shockingly exploitative conditions that exist behind most restaurant kitchen doors.' . . . Jayaraman champions employee causes and argues fervently against discrimination, giving restaurant owners, diners, and readers considerable food for thought."—Publishers Weekly (11 February 2013)

"The author reveals . . . [how] many restaurants steal workers' wages and tips, and put white workers in the best jobs out front while assigning those of color to the worst kitchen work. Women are harassed and not promoted. Few food workers have insurance or even sick leave, which is a problem not just for the workers; patrons also suffer when ill workers prepare and serve meals. . . . This book will leave readers angry at the injustices detailed within, queasy about eating out, and much better tippers."—Library Journal (15 February 2013)

"With Behind the Kitchen Door, Saru Jayaraman has introduced a fresh and essential perspective on our culture's food obsessions and dining habits. By highlighting the lives and circumstances of workers who are often unseen and unheard, she has helped us see that labor is a key ingredient of authentic sustainability, and greatly enriched our understanding of those people who have—whether we have recognized it or not—been part of some of the most important celebrations of our lives."—Danny Glover, actor, producer, and cofounder of Louverture Films

"Half of all Americans eat out at least once a week. The restaurant has become our second kitchen. In her groundbreaking new book, Saru Jayaraman exposes a missing plotline in the story of our food: the story of who's behind the kitchen door, how they’re treated, and why it matters. Hers is a captivating, rousing story. If you care about where your food comes from, this book is for you. Read this book, get inspired, and join the fight for fair food behind the kitchen door." —Anna Lappé, founder of the Real Food Media Project and bestselling author of Diet for a Hot Planet

"The poorest paid workers in America are the ones most likely to be cooking your food and washing your dishes. Saru Jayaraman tells their stories with searing analysis and vital compassion in this landmark book. She shows how the most exploited aren't just victims, but survivors organizing for dignity and safety in the food system. And in so doing, she helps us understand that sustainable food isn’t just about how organic or local the food is, but how high workers can hold their heads."—Raj Patel, bestselling author of The Value of Nothing and Stuffed and Starved

About the Author

Saru Jayaraman is cofounder and codirector of the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United and director of the Food Labor Research Center at the University of California, Berkeley.

Eric Schlosser is the author of Fast Food Nation, Reefer Madness, and Chew On This, and he has been a contributor to The Atlantic since 1994.

More About the Author

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Customer Reviews

Excellent read and very worthy topic.
I am personally inspired by Saru's words and the stories in her book.
Chicago Lawyer
This book should be required reading for anyone who eats out.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

29 of 35 people found the following review helpful By I. Darren on February 4, 2013
Format: Hardcover
Increasingly the consumer is concerned about the sustainability of the food they eat, how it has been produced and other ethical concerns. Yet often the treatment their fellow man has received whilst tending to the ingredients, particularly in so-called developed countries, is often forgotten. THe same "lack of concern" can also exist in the hospitality industry up to when it is placed on your table.

But do we care? This book lifts the lid on something many people tend not to think about, whether by accident or on purpose. Written from a U.S.-perspective, an objective, thoughtful look is given to an interesting topic - many people will enthuse or even obsess about the provenance of their diet and ingredients, some might even consider the plight of foreign workers who might tend the crops, but not so many will think about what happens to those in their own country who handle or prepare the food as it completes its journey.

The author founded a national restaurant workers organisation to help campaign for a fairer deal for the industry and within this book the lives of typical restaurant workers in New York City, Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, Miami, Detroit, and New Orleans are placed under the research microscope. The reading is far from comfortable. It is a lot more than just the (abhorrent to European standards) practice that wait staff must effectively live on tips. Poor wages, discriminatory labour practices, often unsafe and unsanitary working conditions and general exploitation are all brought up. Of course one cannot label an entire industry as bad, but equally the examples cited are apparently far from being unique, rare and unheard of.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By J. L LaRegina on January 9, 2014
Format: Hardcover
Look up author Saru Jayaraman discussing her 2013 book BEHIND THE KITCHEN DOOR on the BOOK T.V. web site. Her seminar opens with a compelling video that documents some of the injustices prevalent in the American restaurant industry, which this title expands upon with personal stories of food service workers who are underpaid and abused by management. If you are not sure you want to learn more about what goes on in the places you go for dinner, lunch, or breakfast, the video will close the sale.

Should self-interest be your only motivation you'll still join the call for better working conditions such as paid sick leave, because BEHIND THE KITCHEN DOOR documents the risk you take consuming restaurant food handled by someone with a contagious illness who could not afford to take an unpaid sick day.

Author Jayaraman's book details her effort in organizing Restaurant Opportunities Center (R.O.C.) United to improve wages and benefits for the nation's restaurant workforce.

Just as we seek food labels promising no use of genetically modified organisms, I'd like to see restaurants that pay livings wages and benefits including sick time post signs saying so. I have to peruse the R.O.C. United web site more but hope for an on-line guide to such ethics (or lack of them) in eateries.

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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
In recent years we have focused on the living conditions of the animals raised for our food. Finally, we are examining the living conditions of the people who serve us that food. This book does an excellent job of integrating large scale research results with personal vignettes. The author presents stories of restaurant workers who are terribly exploited and abused, juxtaposed with stories of those whose spirit and determination lead them to fight against this oppression. As a result the book raises consciousness , inspires hope, and provides practical suggestions on how consumers can work for a more just and spiritually wholesome restaurant industry. For those of us who wish to choose compassionate consumption, the book is a beacon.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Joe & Lois on May 9, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I worked as a server in a resort hotel when I was in college, and again in food prep in a college cafeteria as a retiree. It has gotten worse, not better, for these workers. We do take too much for granted when we "eat out." This book holds those doors open and introduces the reader to the life of the servers and kitchen staff. The first issue is of course the ridiculously low pay, but the second is the lack of paid sick time, so workers come to work because they cannot afford not to, and everyone else pays the price. I gave this book four stars only because I thought it needed a stronger editor.
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10 of 13 people found the following review helpful By LA reader on February 19, 2013
Format: Hardcover
The first hand accounts of restaurant workers made this book hard to put down. Really well written and a good balance of worker voices and stories and cold, hard facts about the restaurant industry. I've always wondered how likely it was for a dishwasher or cook to move the front of the house where you earn more money - and sadly not surprised to learn that race and gender play a big role in how much you earn. Jayaraman does a great job of showing how, when workers come together across these and other barriers, that they have power to pressure restaurants to be better and can change the job into one that provides living wages and a career ladder. Since this industry employes so many people in the US, we would do well to study it with books like this and push for change. Fixing income inequality in the US can start here.
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