Giving back to the hospitality industry
By Brandon Watson, Fri., Dec. 9, 2016
I had hoped by now that the feeling would have gone away. On that sleepless Wednesday after the election, I barely had it in me to work. I couldn't muster enough energy to care about restaurant openings, no matter how long-awaited, no matter how accomplished the chef. I didn't really care about new menu offerings or staff shuffles or the latest hometown hero to land a spot on TV. And while I did plenty of drinking, it didn't particularly matter whether my cocktail was well-balanced.
I was sure I would settle back into the groove, but I'm struggling to get my former enthusiasm back. Don't get me wrong, the stories surrounding food still hold my interest, and there are plenty of related topics – from culinary diversity (see Veronica Meewes' enlightening feature above) to social justice movements like Fight for 15 – that in big and small ways defy the toxic new America. I don't even deny that food criticism, industry news, or just plain boosterism have less value since the election. That culture deserves to be documented. Maybe even especially now.
But those intellectual exercises no longer seem to be enough. I suspect many of us are feeling the same thing, questioning the triviality of what we do on a day-to-day basis – wanting to do more where we can. The scope of need is overwhelming. If words are to be put into deed, it's often best to start at home. For me, that means turning back to food.
This year, I have been struck by how many crowdfunding campaigns have popped up on my social feeds to help folks in the hospitality industry get over the hump of an illness or an accident. And while it is heartening to see the generosity of my community, it shouldn't have to be this way. Austin's culinary scene is as responsible for the tourist money and press that flood our town as the music scene, yet the city that gave birth to HAAM and the SIMS Foundation does not seem to have any such organization for hospitality workers.
I worry about the state of our economy in a new administration, and that Obamacare will be rolled back. I fear that this will be an uglier America in a few months – especially for marginalized communities, many who are the gears of our food system. However, I have no doubts about the smarts and sense of the food community, no doubts about the heart. I know many restaurateurs want to do better for their employees without having the margins to work it out. I know we all want to do good by each other. I shouldn't have been surprised that many of my colleagues and friends have had a similar desire to do something, anything to help people in the service industry cope with health costs.
I am exceedingly fortunate to have a platform. What I don't have is the knowledge on how to begin. I have been having conversations over the last month and will continue to do so over the next few months to fill in more gaps. By writing this column, I am hoping to crowdsource that my readers – who assumably care as much about Austin food as I do – will reach out with thoughts, that friends will be willing to share experience and wisdom on how to make health care more affordable and to make sick time less catastrophic, and then help put wheels into motion, even if we have to start from scratch. Email me at email@example.com.