From farm to plate, our food travels many miles and touches many hands.
My generation saw the traditional farm gobbled up by corporate agri-business and the cost of food decrease markedly. Today, average consumers pay only 10 per cent of their income on food and the farmer/food producer is the lowest paid person on the food ladder.
Our future as a sustainable society rests on our children and yet we insist on paying them the bare minimum as well when they work in the food industry.
The food service industry is one of the toughest job markets for both employees and employers. Most food establishments/stores have help wanted signs in the windows and help wanted ads running. All of them accept resumés on a continuous basis from prospective employees due to high staff turnover.
It is a chicken-egg scenario. Employers don’t pay attractive salaries because the staff has no allegiance. Employees have no allegiance because they aren’t paid much above minimum wage and the work scheduling and duties are often unpredictable.
In the food service industry, these young adults are often the front-line workers in immediate contact with customers. In many circumstances, they are given minimal training and a long list of duties with expectations far beyond their pay scale. It’s no wonder they become disillusioned and frustrated and look for alternative employment.
The managers/owners of the food services aren’t always to blame either because, as with most owner-operated businesses, they must wear a multitude of hats to try and get the job done.
I know I am frustrated because, as a food grower, I’ve tried very hard to bring a better awareness about the current food system and I am often at odds with some of my peers who believe you either have to get big in the agriculture business or get out.
We go the extra distance to create a network of consumers that will support our farm and do not demand we sell wholesale through large box stores. That’s working to our favour, but what can we all do to support our young adults in this food industry?
The food service industry has to improve conditions so young adults looking for employment see these places as a possible future and not just a temporary position. This means regular schedules, a pay scale commensurate with other industry jobs and compensation packages that are available and competitive. They need to know they can rely on fair wages without having to add shared tips into the total.
At our farm and at the Fireweed Community Market, I see the excellence in youth all around me and I know they gladly work hard and efficiently with the right motivation. This is where owners and managers of food services have to work toward a better system to provide these young adults with a future.
Of course this can only work if the consumer is also engaged and supportive. Next time you go out to eat instead of cooking your own locally grown meal, talk to your server/host. Ask them about their future and how they see life ahead of them. Tell the manager how much you appreciate the service and be sure to commend them for a job well done.
These young adults are not just food service employees, they are our children, so please treat them with the respect they deserve.