Saru Jayaraman is the president of One Fair Wage and the director of the Food Labor Research Center at UC Berkeley. She is also the author of four books including her latest, One Fair Wage: Ending All Subminimum Pay in America. Before joining the panel for “What Is a Good Tourism Job Now?,” the inaugural program in “What Is a Good Job Now?,” a new series supported by The James Irvine Foundation, she joined us in the green room to chat about the 80-20 method, being a candy striper, and why we still don’t have a TV show that accurately speaks to the people who make up the food service industry.
What’s the last song you listened to?
I listen to a lot of world music. Carlos Vives is a Colombian singer, and I listened to him this morning.
What’s your go-to source for news?
I read the Guardian. There's just no better source on climate issues. They I think provide a little more nuanced view that you don't hear in mainstream American news.
What did you want to be growing up?
Many different things. A pianist, an architect. At one point a lawyer …
Tell us about the piano. What was your favorite song to play?
Brahms was a composer that I played a lot that I enjoyed. Now my kids are taking piano. They don't enjoy it half as much as I did. So, I’m thinking maybe I'll kick them out and just keep going with the piano myself.
What’s your favorite travel snack?
Almonds. Wasabi almonds.
What do you like to do to relax?
Be in nature with my kids. I live in the Bay Area, and we try to go hiking a couple times a month. And we do trips to national parks as often as possible. It’s something my parents did for me growing up, and I hated it as a kid, and now I'm so grateful. So now I'm doing it to my kids. And they groan and groan. But in the end, it's the best memories.
Where is your favorite national park?
Alaska and Hawai`i. They are the most phenomenal places.
What was your first job?
A candy striper at a hospital. And then an administrative assistant.
You recently wrote about The Bear and food service, so we’re wondering what piece of pop culture do you think most accurately depicts the industry?
I don't think any really do it complete justice. Even The Bear, and I mentioned this in the article, didn't really get as much into the lives of workers as much as it did into the life of the owner. And I think that's the big problem—that there isn't enough focus on the humans that are the majority of a restaurant. There was a book called Dishwasher, but it was a memoir.
We need an Abbott Elementary for food service!
Yes, exactly. Two Broke Girls is awful. I don’t think there’s anything that tells it like it is.
Is there a show you’re watching right now that you’re really into?
I do like Abbott Elementary and I do wish there was something like that for food service workers. And in fact, we're working on it.
Can you tell us any more about that?
Not yet. But I have written a couple of books, and there are folks working to adapt my books into shows.
What is the last thing that made you laugh?
My kids. Sometimes I have to bring my kids to my class at Berkeley. I teach social movements at Berkeley. My daughter came and sat in a couple of weeks ago and following that class, she organized a petition of all her friends in fifth grade, fourth grade, third grade, that they should have seat covers on their toilets in the school. And she told me that she had listened to my lecture and used the techniques for organizing. She said, I used the 80-20! You have to listen 80% of the time, and then agitate 20% of the time. So it was very cool. That made me laugh.