Growing up in the Bay has taught me various things. Whether it be dress in layers because it might be winter in the morning but summer in the afternoon, whether it be to brace myself for the smell of pee on BART, or whether it be to know where to go to get the best food in town. When its late at night and I either get off at work or leave the party I was at with my friends, there’s always the question of what should I eat? In San Lorenzo, where I currently live, nothing but fast food restaurants are open past 10pm. Then somehow someone always has the same suggestion. Oakland tacos. Nothing is better than tacos de carnitas from the taco truck on 22nd at 2am in the morning. But this is just one example. Oakland is home to hundreds of restaurant and food trucks.

In this blog post, I will be exploring the importance of food to Oakland and its reputation for its authentic multicultural menu. I wanted to address the food industry not only because Oakland is recognized as one of the top food cities in the country but because so many of the residents in Oakland are involved in the industry. The food industry has contributed to making the Oakland that it is now and and wanted to see what factors led to the food being so damn good here.

To start off, we must acknowledge the fact that recently this year, Oakland took the top spots in four major categories on a survey done by Estately. The city nabbed the top spots in breakfast, coffee, food trucks, and Chinese food. Oakland’s food isn’t limited to only these four categories though. With the variety of types of food and many restaurants each making these different types of food, it can get pretty confusing on where to choose to go. But websites such as chowhound.com have mapped out which trucks to visit, which fine dining restaurants to try next, and which coffee shops to stop by. The food industry in Oakland itself has turned into a culture that requires more than just yelp reviews but actual websites have been created just to navigate which spots are worth traveling to.

Of course, not everyone uses these websites and review apps to find a new spot to feast. My family has put me on to so many spots I feel like I could run a tour on the must-try’s of Oakland. My dad being the most food influential person in my life has introduced various places including a tortas hogadas spot that I’m pretty sure is just located inside someone’s house, a mariscos spot where the ceviche is too hot to handle but you can’t stop eating it, a soul-food spot located in an isolated parking lot down 4th, and the list goes on and on. What made me want to write this post is that its not just about how good the food is. Its about taking someone to a restaurant for the first time to try and then having them take someone else later on and eventually everyone is enjoying the same great food and atmosphere together. The best restaurants tend to be those small joints that don’t get a lot of publicity but have everyone talking about them.

These small family owned restaurants that tend to be the best also employee a large amount of the population of the city. Many parents, grandparents and other individuals in the city either own their own restaurant or are employed at one. A study done by rocunited.org on a sample size of 171 workers not only found the diversity of ethnicities in the food industry, but the very low wages they are given. According to the study, the demographics of the industry include Latinos (38%), white (23%), Black (22%), Asian (13%), and other (4%) with a median age of 27. The majority of the workers are employed at either casual full-service (44.2%) and fast food (33.3%). Now to look at the data concerning wages. The study found that the median wage among restaurant workers in Oakland was $9 hour with working a median of 30 hours a week. These wages have proven to not be enough for workers causing low-income households within the city. The severity of the issue goes as far as in the last year 52% of restaurant workers felt they had to rely on meals at work because they could not afford to buy enough food to cook at home.

It is important to look at the counter narrative of every story. Not a lot of people talk about the conditions Oakland restaurant workers have to live with. With the food industry contributing greatly to the city’s economy and reputation, the workers working as the backbone of the industry deserve at least a little acknowledgment. The workers are not just workers; they are everyday residents in the same city they serve.

To wrap up my introduction to the food industry of Oakland, its much bigger than just good food that reminds you of your grandmothers cooking. Its an industry that has put the city on the map and to be recognized as a leader in certain food categories. It also employs many Oakland residents that are working hard to barely make it by. Oakland is full of diversity and many different narratives, and this was just one of them.

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