R: People didn’t really focus on what was really going on. It wasn’t like The Jungle until Fast Food Nation.
P: He pulled it all together: What you were served in a fast-food restaurant, the farmers and ranchers, the restaurant workers, and then everything that stood behind it. That was a really important book in terms of waking people up to the hidden reality of the things they were eating every day.
R: Absolutely. Although conditions in meatpacking haven’t changed at all.
P: That’s not quite true. You do have the whole Temple Grandin project of making slaughterhouses more humane. [Temple Grandin is a designer who uses behavioral principles to control livestock.]
R: Yes, that was a big moment when McDonald’s hired this brilliant autistic woman to improve the way the cattle were slaughtered. The animals’ conditions have gotten better. Right. So now we think the best day of their lives is the day they die. But the workers’ conditions, that’s the part that...Farm workers, meat workers, supermarket workers. These jobs are awful.
P: I think the next chapter of the food movement will involve paying more attention to the workers in the food chain—on the farm, in the packing plants and in the restaurants. To a lot of people who care about food, all these people are invisible, but that’s starting finally to change. I think the campaign by the Coalition of Immokalee Workers to improve the pay of tomato pickers in Florida has been an interesting and successful fight, one that much of the food movement supported.
R: I’d like to think we at Gourmet [where Reichl was editor in chief from 1999 to 2009] had a hand in that. I sent Barry Estabrook down to Florida to write about the conditions of the tomato pickers, who were living in virtual slavery. They’d been fighting, unsuccessfully, to get a penny per pound raise from the growers. After the article appeared the governor met with them, and they won their fight.
The waitress arrives.
P: Oh, we have to do some work. Give us a minute. Do you have any specials we need to know about?
Waitress: No, everything on the menu is a special because the menu changes every day.