Our nation’s food service workers know the ins and outs of food, but many also know hunger just as well.
Over 1 in 5 food service workers suffer from food insecurity. That’s almost double the national average. A combination of low wages and inconsistent hours renders many food service workers unable to afford healthy food for themselves and their families.
DC food service worker Anthony Randolph knows firsthand what this problem looks like. Randolph has worked for Bon Appetit food service at American University for eleven years, and earlier this month he testified about his experience of food insecurity at a DC City Council hearing on food deserts. The hearing, convened by the Council Committee on Environment, Public Works, and Transportation, aimed to examine the impact of the FEED DC Act of 2010 on DC’s food insecure residents. Mary Cheh, the Councilwoman who called the hearing, is the elected official for DC’s Ward 3, where American University is located.
A longtime resident of Anacostia, one of DC’s poorest neighborhoods, Randolph spoke about the challenges of finding and affording fresh, healthy food in his community. He said, “A number of my coworkers also live in Anacostia…Even full-time food service jobs may not always pay the wages we need to buy good food.”
Living in a neighborhood without grocery stores and supporting three children with his low wages, Randolph must be creative to provide for his family. Randolph told the hearing audience that he regularly travels thirty minutes by bus to reach the nearest grocery store that stocks good, fresh produce, though he also reported buying “canned vegetables because often they were cheaper than buying real, fresh ones.” Sometimes, when he has been unable to make ends meet, Randolph has turned to emergency food providers, like DC’s Bread for the City, for help.
Randolph’s story illustrates the irony of the food service industry’s current status quo: the 11 million people upon whom we depend to cook and serve our meals at restaurants, airports, hotels, and cafeterias are often unable to put enough healthy food on their tables at home. Closing this gap requires not only investing in grocery store construction and farmers’ market access in low-income neighborhoods, but also ensuring that food workers receive sufficient wages to actually shop at those stores and markets.
Randolph drove home this point in his closing statement: “So we need more and better ways of getting fresh food. But real food is only part of the answer. The other has to be real jobs…I think everyone who cares about making kids healthy, and families healthy, needs to support good jobs in the food system.”