Click Here, Read This: Cheap Eats, Cheap Labor

Clockwise from top left: Todd Richards, Caleb Zigas, Gustavo Arellano, John T Edge, Lora Smith, Adrian Miller, Paul Fehribach, Andrea Reusing, Michael Twitty, Lolis Eric Elie, Toni Tipton-Martin, Tunde Wey, Diep Tran, Nicole A. Taylor. Not pictured: John Simpkins.

In August of 2016, fifteen thinkers, writers, and chefs gathered at Rivendell Writers’ Colony in Sewanee, Tennessee to explore together how difference based on color imprints and imperils American food culture. We previously shared one essay that came out of that gathering, by Toni Tipton-Martin.

Another participant, Diep Tran, chef and owner of Good Girl Dinette in Los Angeles, wrote about the cheap labor behind those ubiquitous and wildly popular ‘cheap eats’ lists.

Everyone loves a cheap eats list. A treasure map to $1 tacos! $4 banh mi! $6 pad Thai! More often than not, the Xs that mark the cheap spots are in the city’s immigrant enclaves. Indeed, food media is never so diverse as when it runs these lists, its pages fill with names of restaurateurs and chefs of color.”

Diep argues that these lists perpetuate an oppressive system where “immigrant food is often expected to be cheap, because, implicitly, the labor that produces it is expected to be cheap, because that labor has historically been cheap.”

Read the full essay on NPR’s The Salt.

*Cover image by Alex Reynolds / NPR