I came up in kitchens. Starting in 1979 and for almost 40 years I lived the raucous, dangerous, bawdy, and yes often extremely crude life of a professional cook. For those who have never worked in restaurants, allow me to paint a picture of the all-to-frequent culture of many kitchens.
Imagine a frat party. In a locker room. On a submarine. Plus knives and fire.
The high-stress, fast-paced world of a restaurant kitchen, which was even more male-dominated then than it remains today, would make the raunchiest sailor blush. None of us had even heard the term “sexual harassment.” The abusive banter was not limited by gender, and was hurled between men and boys, women and girls in the same off-handed way one might toss onion rings in the fryer. It may not have been condoned by everyone, but it was at least tolerated. That was certainly my experience, at least.
All of it was wrong, mean, stupid, sexist, cruel, choose your own adjectives – they all apply.
While I cannot honestly say that I was just as guilty as the next guy, I did often engage in this kind of behavior, even while I found some of it extremely rude. Why? I guess I could blame it on being young, but the fact is I was just trying to fit into the culture I found myself in. That’s not an excuse, but it is a reason.
That level of often misogynistic banter was, and often still is, a part of cooking culture. Back then the people who were hurt by it suffered in silence most of the time. Today, thankfully, our culture is changing, and kitchens are slowly coming along. College-age kids today – at least the ones I see and interact with – are far more mature and intelligent about this kind of thing than we were then (than I was then). That’s why things are improving. We are obviously far from a sexual-harassment-free world, but we are much further down that path than we once were. That is due mostly to our youth, and of course to massive social movements like the Women’s March and #MeToo.
All of this has come to mind in the last day or two as a dear friend and colleague is being confronted with some of the stupid and insensitive things he said once in a workplace 8 years ago. I’m here to tell you that despite past mistakes, indeed in some ways because of them, Mike Carberry is a good person. He has a good heart. And he fights hard for justice every day. Social justice, economic justice, environmental justice, and racial justice. I know because I’ve seen it.
My friend Erin Madsen wrote a post on the subject recently and I agree with it. His most important point was this:
“How can we comport ourselves as honest men, as environmentalists, as progressives or liberals, if we keep falling into the same old misogynistic, unprofessional habits?”
The thing is, Mike didn’t “keep falling.”
He made some very stupid comments 8 years ago and learned well from them. I work with him, I know him well, and have seen first-hand how he treats county employees - ALL employees - with dignity and respect.
Now at least one person is comparing him to Donald Trump. That is a patently and demonstrably false comparison and is driven by nothing but spite. It should be retracted.
We all say stupid, insensitive stuff sometimes. And sometimes that stupid stuff ends up hurting people. That’s what happened 8 years ago. He apologized then, and he meant it. He apologizes now, and he means it. He lost his job, learned a valuable lesson and took it to heart. I believe that that has tremendous value.
My decades in foodservice taught me many things that had nothing to do with cooking, and among them that just because I was often bullied or harassed, that didn’t make it OK for me to do the same thing. I still slip up occasionally. I still say stupid stuff every so often. I still occasionally have the need to rediscover the glories of the unspoken thought. Yet I am far more careful and respectful of other people’s feelings now, having learned valuable lessons as both victim and perpetrator.
So too has Mike learned and grown, and I watch him every day work to use his privilege to benefit those who have less privilege, or no privilege at all. And isn’t that what we should all aspire to? We are, all of us, much better than our worst moments.