Lindsay Christians, an arts and food journalist with The Capital Times, is a respected and thorough observer of Madison’s restaurant scene, but never thought she’d be the one to write an investigation of sexual harassment in the food industry. “I started to realize that when it came to the sourcing and how I wanted to go about it, I did kind of have some strong opinions about how it should be handled, and so I ended up taking it on myself,” Christians says. As she watched a number of celebrity chefs, like Mario Batali and John Besh, face the consequences of sexual harassment late last year, Christians began reaching out to cooks and servers in Madison to hear about their experiences with abuse and misconduct on the job.
After three months of work, Christians published “Off the menu,” last week’s Cap Times cover story. It documents what many local restaurant workers—some of whom gave their names and some of whom chose to remain anonymous—have suffered through behind the scenes, from retaliatory work environments in the kitchen to grabby customers at the front of the house. The story by itself likely won’t take down any prominent local restaurateurs or chefs, because The Cap Times opted not to name perpetrators or the restaurants where things took place. But at the very least, Christians’ work will stir up more public conversation.
“The point of the story is not any individual account…but it’s sort of trying to paint a picture of a culture where this has continued since the beginning of restaurants, really,” Christians says. But of course Christians knows the names, and admits that knowledge might impact her ability to cover some local restaurants in the future.
Christians sat down with me a few days after the story came out to talk about how she went about reporting it and where she anticipates the public conversation about harassment in the restaurant world will go next. Give the conversation a listen here, or subscribe to the Tone Madison podcast on Apple Podcasts. If you like what you’re hearing, please leave us a review on Apple Podcasts and consider supporting us financially with a one-time or recurring donation.
Oh, and Christians hosts a very enjoyable local food podcast, The Corner Table, which we highly recommend checking out.