Letter: Seeking justice and connection around food

Graphic by Lori Deaton

My name is Zella, and I’m a recent graduate of the Warren Wilson social work program, a former Sonic employee and a first-generation college student. After graduation, I will move on to a higher-paying job after spending six months working in fast food during a global pandemic. For many of my friends, this is a long-term reality.

Sonic employees are, in my opinion, shamefully underpaid for their labor, like many other workers in the fast-food industry. Carhops at Sonic are paid a subminimum wage, but they don’t have the infrastructure to allow tips via card, despite cashless transactions being most common. To address these concerns, I created a petition on Coworker.org that reached over 8,000 signatures at time of writing.

My senior field placement was at Asheville Poverty Initiative, an economic justice nonprofit. We believe that learning to see each other as neighbors and friends will transform our community. The COVID-19 pandemic has radically changed the way that we approach our mission. Rates of food insecurity have tripled since the pandemic. Instead of a cafe-style environment, we have shifted to a food distribution model to mitigate viral transmission.

Each week at API, we receive mountains of donations, ranging from pantry staples like milk, eggs and pasta to gourmet cheeses, fresh produce and desserts. This abundance changed my relationship with food and scarcity. I started bringing excess API food in to share with my co-workers at Sonic. Before long, there was a small section in the crew area with a bag full of food for employees. This small cultural shift was evidence that I was able to carry out API’s mission of abundance and expand its reach to new communities. The food brings people to the table, but the act of breaking bread with someone makes authentic connections.

— Zella Roberts

Editor’s note: Xpress reached out to Sonic’s media representatives about the letter writer’s points but received no response.


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