Automation in the Food Industry

By Matthew Cardoza, Opinion Editor

kmcardoza13@gmail.com

A notable symptom of our fast technological advances in the past few decades is the decline in simple positions in the workforce, like manufacturing jobs. No longer can a laborer expect their position to last for an extended period of time due to the advent of robotics. The decline of manual labor jobs is now creeping into the food industry with the introduction of automation, and the Bay Area is not exempt from this change. It’s truly the wild west in the food industry, as start-up companies flirt with automation in order to cut costs on production and employees, and to set themselves apart from other competitors. The automation phenomenon in the food industry will have a negative impact on City College students and other residents in the Bay Area who are looking for jobs in this industry.

City College currently has an exceptional culinary department that serves quality cafeteria food, from the beginning weeks of the first semester to the end of the second semester of each year. Yes, the culinary students, at the moment are most likely doing fine in terms of employment, but with the rapid advancement of automation, how long will it last, will the career opportunities be as abundant, and is short term innovation worth the displacement of a large portion of jobs? In the Bay Area, which has a large parts of its job sector dedicated to the food industry, businesses eager to adopt automation practices will ultimately be replacing the livelihoods of humans.

Creator, a burger restaurant founded by physicist and engineer, Alex Vardakostas, opened in San Francisco in June of this year. According to popular food website, Eater SF, the restaurant’s main feature are burgers cooked and assembled entirely by an automated machine. The burgers are served in a minimalist dining setting, obtainable only through online reservations; this I found out the hard way, after being ushered out by a bouncer one afternoon. In the same Eater SFarticle, Vardakostas spoke to them about why he wanted to open up such a restaurant, stating: “I thought, ‘Why aren’t we bringing [this technology] to the restaurant space for better food?’” Vardakostas said. “Why can’t we make life better for people who work in restaurants” The irony of this statement is that while automation may make work easier, what good is it if the job is eventually lost? It’s not making life better for people working in restaurants if they have to question their role at work, and live in fear that one day their position could be replaced by a robot.

Photo courtsey of Michael David Rose
Photo courtsey of Michael David Rose

Despite the aesthetic appeal and the technological advances of the restaurant, places like Creator that dabble in automation in the Bay Area food industry create a slippery slope, one in which the jobs and livelihoods of current and future CCSF students come into question. There’s always a possibility that other fast food companies, both large and small, can look at the successes of a place like Creator and choose to compete with them by implementing automation, and since the minimum wage rose in San Francisco to $15 an hour, it makes sense that they would reduce the amount of staff and hours. Also, Vardakostas’ eagerness to replace simpler human jobs with automated robotics should send shivers down the spines of those looking for work, as it seems to me that this kind of attitude can be imitated by other CEO’s dying to make a quick profit.

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