Racialicious Crush Of The Week: Restaurant Opportunities Centers United’s (ROC United) Videos

By Andrea Plaid

You know I love the hell out of something or someone when I have to write a second post about it/them.

In my interview with Crush alum Yvonne Yen Liu, I posted this video ROC United co-founder Saru Jayaraman showed at Facing Race’s “No Justice, No Peas” panel that Liu moderated:

The warm, almost saturated colors suggest the intimate, inviting ambiance one would expect at a place where the person and their dining partner would drop $150 for a meal. The pushed colors also suggests a halo effect from “ethical eating”–e.g. eating at an organic-food restaurant–that some diners may feel because they’re “doing the right thing”…until you read the stories of the people, mostly people of color, serving the food. And the soft halo become a harsher glare as we read the synopsis of each worker’s story while the camera goes deeper into the kitchen.

This video, directed by Sekou Luke, is a genius bit of what I call “media interruption,” in this case, utilizing the medium of video to expressly check a dominant narrative about a deeply held popular idea but not necessarily a corporate enterprise–in this case, the notion of eating at an organic restaurant is inherently a non-exploitative situation.

Luke and his team again “media-interrupt” in this ROC United vid–using saturated colors, peppy music, and multi-culti casting–with teaspoon-of-sugar effectiveness in order to bring attention to the dire economic, healthcare, and labor issues keeping restaurant workers from using sick leave:

The above-mentioned vids serve as book trailers for Jayaraman’s book, Behind The Kitchen Door. Most recently, ROC United and Luke went for full-on culture-jamming with their latest, using Red Lobster’s pop-music cheerful commercials to demand that the restaurant’s parent company, Darden, give their employees decently paid sick days.

According to the January 11, 2013, blog post at Miami New Times:

Darden is the parent company of Red Lobster, The Capital Grille, Olive Garden, Seasons 52, Bahama Breeze, Yard House, LongHorn Steakhouse, among others. The Orlando-based restaurant giant employees around 180,000 people nationwide and was listed as one of the 100 Best Companies to Work For by Fortune magazine, mostly for their diversity program, which seeks to employ women and minorities.

ROC United claims that Darden’s hourly employees have no paid sick days. Orlando-based Darden, which employees around 180,000 people nationwide, lists a variety of employee perks on its website like health insurance, training, flexible work hours, and weekly pay, but there is no mention of accrued sick days. We contacted media relations for both Darden and Red Lobster to clarify their sick days policy, and have not received a response yet.

Saru Jayaraman, co-executive director of ROC United, a non-profit organization, told Short Order that her organization chose to send their message as a spoof of the popular Red Lobster commercials because, “we felt the company is not living up to the image it portrays. Their commercials focus on particular workers, showing how happy they are, but the irony is that many workers have contacted us with complaints about the company. The fact that they focus on workers being happy is ironic.”

Jayaraman said she does not want this video to lead to a boycott of the restaurant giant.  Instead, she suggests that after enjoying a meal, “Tell management as a consumer, you feel they should give their workers sick days. As a leader in the restaurant industry, they have the responsibility and the resources to set a good example.” In addition, ROC United has started an online petition, stressing the need for paid sick days for restaurant employees.

Like I said, I can’t love ROC United’s video workand overall activism–enough. Enough for second helpings.