A quick note about Obamacare, as it relates to food.

I give too much of this shit away for free. I wrote a (moderately) lengthy diatribe, in response to some conservative troll-bag on Eater National’s article about a racist BBQ restaurant owner in—hold on, your never going to believe this— Arkansas, who compares Obamacare —also incredulously— to slavery. It’s not that I’m a die hard, foaming at the lips, supporter of the PP&ACA. But for all it’s flaws, it’s a start. Sure, it’ll be a gazillion more years, after America has largely been crushed under the weight of it’s “citizen’s” narrow self-interest and consumer bloodlust, before we do any better, but for now this is what we got.

That being said, the vicious rhetoric from the right wing about the law is, even to my silly little head, as wrong as it’s possible to be about anything. The law’s citizen detractors are a funny little bunch since they take their cues from politicians they claim to loathe but in fact slavishly revere, which is why they faithfully parrot all of their factually incorrect talking points. Meanwhile, we all look like a bunch of spoiled and stupid children to the rest of the civilized world. I mean, who cares what the Canucks think, but the Germans… the Germans practically built this country, and gave us beer. Now they look down their mustard-stained noses at our lack of socio-political savvy. So here’s this tool’s comment, which sort of embodies every falsehood perpetuated in one short paragraph (and I gotta say, I admire and envy his [or her] concision):

Stay out of politics Eater, especially when you’re posting opinionated wordage instead of facts. You say “Some restaurants protest the Affordable Care Act by cutting employees’ hours”?. ummmm NO, no small business owner is going to protest the government by punishing their employees. They are cutting employees hours because Obamacare is destroying their business, the 40 hour work week, and the middle class. They can’t afford to keep all their employees at 40 hours a week so they are cutting them down to 29 hours (because apparently the government thinks full time is actually 30 hours and not 40). This is the only way these small businesses can afford to stay in business.

And the response:

Where politics and food overlap, I believe it’s plenty pertinent for eater to post about it. As to the “substance” of your post: Obamacare only requires businesses employing 50 or more people to provide health coverage, and subsidizes smaller ones to help defer the cost. As the country moves more and more to a service based economy, with low wages and few benefits (besides, perhaps the shift drink and staff meal) it’s important that employees have some way to obtain health insurance and, as conservative an idea as it is, the market based mandate seems to be the only politically feasible way forward.

Can restaurants afford to give their employees coverage? Well, a restaurant that has 50 or more employees very likely has more than one location, so there’s some money right there. Should they grow before they take care of their staff? I guess that depends on what sort of a person you are. As the sort of a person who has spent the vast majority of the past 20 years busting his ass in the back-of-the-house of successful restaurants, and being compensated to the tune of 10 or 12 dollars an hour without benefits, I fall into the camp that says it’s time for restaurants to step up and start taking care of their employees.

You may believe that, “Well Mike, that’s sort of your fault for working for such low wages for so long,” which is fine; I considered it a labor of love. But it’s pretty disgusting and self-serving for the dining public to think that they should get to pay as little as possible for their meals, and that the people who make their food should just have to suffer. Someone has to cook the food. We can’t all be important big shots with well paying jobs and health insurance, can we? Well maybe now we can at least all have the chance to get health insurance.

And that’s the damn truth. I don’t know what the benefits situation is at all these mini-empires that every chef in Portland suddenly feels they need to operate, but if they don’t currently offer so-called “affordable” insurance, hopefully they’re now going to have to. Only at New Seasons Market was I ever offered insurance, and that came with the indignity of wearing a goddamn name tag and baseball cap, like a teenager making french fries. It also came with the utter pain in the ass of dealing with a megalithic, labyrinthine bureaucracy, a dozen or so bosses who didn’t know my job from digging ditches, reams of paperwork, and terrible, terrible “charcuterie,” but hey that’s the price of comfort.

It’s often said by cooks that they “do it for love,” and that’s fine. But doing what you love, especially when that love entails long, shitty hours, screaming adrenalin addicts, high heat, low pay, and little (no) respect, shouldn’t mean that you also lack basic health care.

Again, the ACA only goes part of the way toward fixing this terrific injustice perpetuated daily against my comrades behind the line. Most single outlet companies still won’t have to provide insurance, and the cooks making those piss ass wages will still have to pay for part of their health insurance. But that’s the unfortunate political reality of the country we live in. On the plus side, I imagine that a small empire would rather keep all their cooks on full time than go through the hassle of hiring more people and training them, and writing longer, more complicated schedules.

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