Jaeah Lee

Associate Interactive Producer

Jaeah reports, writes, codes, and charts at Mother Jones. Her writings have appeared in The Atlantic, GuardianWiredChristian Science MonitorGlobal PostHuffington PostTalking Points Memo, and Grist. She is a 2013-14 Middlebury fellow in environmental journalism. Her work has been named a finalist in the Data Journalism Awards. In a former life, she researched and wrote about China at the Council on Foreign Relations.

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A Zagat-Style Guide for Ethical Diners

| Mon Dec. 5, 2011 5:30 AM EST

jeffreysclark/Flickrjeffreysclark/FlickrDiners, foodies, and hungry folk across America: There's a new, handy guide to restaurants for you to peruse. Except, this isn't your typical set of reviews. The Restaurant Opportunities Center United's report from last week scores 186 US eateries based on wages (for both tipped and non-tipped jobs), paid sick days, and opportunities for advancement. After surveying the 150 highest revenue-grossing restaurants in the US as well as 4,300 workers, the ROC found a rather sobering picture of the labor and sanitation practices in the industry, which the group says employs more than 10 million people and is one of of the largest and fastest-growing in the country:

  • The median wage for restaurant workers is $8.90, just under the poverty line for a family of three. More than half of all restaurant workers earn less than the federal poverty line.
  • 90 percent of the 4,300 workers surveyed report not getting paid sick leave. Two-thirds of respondents reported cooking, preparing, and serving food while sick.
  • Women, immigrants, and people of color hold lower paying positions in the industry. ROC found that on average workers of color make $4 less than white workers. Nearly three-quarters of workers surveyed said they did not receive regular promotions.

While it might not shock you that the neighborhood Chuck E. Cheese's is underpaying the busboy, in the report you'll find four-star steakhouses and foodie meccas like Nobu also among the guilty. And Starbucks, which touts "competitive pay," health insurance, bonuses, and even domestic-partner benefits on its career page, scored rather poorly by ROC's measure.

Since these aren't the sorts of reviews you'll find in go-to sources like Zagat or on Yelp! we've compiled our own abbreviated guide for you, pairing the things you normally look for when searching for a place to eat next to their reported labor practices. Sift away.

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From Rock Musician to Anti-Slavery Activist

| Mon Nov. 21, 2011 6:00 AM EST
Justin Dillon with Tremolo in 2007.

You've probably never heard of Justin Dillon or his band, Tremolo. After all, until fairly recently, his career was pretty unremarkable: By 2003, Tremolo had developed a following playing the usual tour circuits. They'd even landed tracks on a few films and television shows, including How to Deal, a romantic comedy starring Mandy Moore, and were awaiting an offer from Capitol Records to cut their first album.

"It was a weird phase where Capitol had a hold on us and we were all excited," Dillon recalls earlier this month as we sit in his sun-basked office in Oakland, California's iconic Tribune Tower. Wispy haired with hazel eyes, Dillon sports a militaristic look: khaki-green Mao cap, dark-washed jeans, black boots, 10 o'clock shadow.

Not wanting to sit around stressing about the record deal—which never materialized—the band accepted an invitation from a nonprofit to spend a week performing in a remote corner of Eastern Europe. Soon, Tremolo was in a town in Kalmykia, a Russian territory bordering the Black Sea. "Like, way the hell out there," Dillon says. "It wasn't hard to impress people because there was nothing to compare us to."

Which Household Cleaners Contain Toxins?

| Thu Nov. 17, 2011 12:19 PM EST

Next time you walk down the cleaning product aisle at your local grocery store, take a closer look at those pretty labels wrapped around your favorite surface disinfectant. A new study out today reveals that numerous popular cleaner brands, including Glade, Clorox, Pine Sol, and the ostensibly eco-friendly Simple Green, contain chemicals that are known to cause hormone disruption, pregnancy complications, birth defects, and cancer, and can aggravate allergies. Women's Voices for the Earth (WVE), which published the report, commissioned an independent laboratory to test 20 popular household cleaning products. Turns out, none of the toxic chemicals detected were disclosed on the product labels.

Here are six of the most egregious brands that WVE says you should watch out for:

Jinx!/FlickrJinx!/FlickrSimple Green Naturals Multi-Surface Care, it turns out, is a bit of a misnomer, since it's laden with phthalates, which even at low-dose exposure, can negatively affect reproductive and neurological development in pregnant women. Researchers also detected 1,4-dioxane, a carcinogen. The Simple Green All-Purpose Cleaner, meanwhile, contained toluene, which has been linked to pregnancy complications, birth defects, and developmental delays in children. The problem, WVE says, is that Simple Green committed to reformulate products containing phthalates in 2010.

txkimmers/Flickrtxkimmers/FlickrGlade's Tough Odor Solutions with Oust Air Sanitizer also tested positive for phthalates despite SC Johnson (its manufacturer) pledging to phase out the chemical from its product line last year. And lab researchers found a common fragrance ingredient called galaxolide, another hormone disruptor that's previously shown it can decrease a cell's defense mechanism against other toxic chemicals. The fact that galaxolide is used in the Glade aerosol deodorizer is particularly concerning, WVE says, because once sprayed the toxin can directly enter your system as you inhale.

marc_buehler/Flickrmarc_buehler/FlickrTide's Liquid Laundry Detergent (and its Free & Gentle version) also contains 1,4-dioxane. Although its maker Procter & Gamble reformulated its Herbal Essences hair care line to strip out the chemical in 2009, it has yet to do the same for the laundry detergent.

In Clorox Clean Up with Bleach, the WVE study found chloroform and carbon tetrachloride, both widely known cancer-causing chemicals. Scientific studies on animals have shown carbon tetrachloride exposure to cause breast cancer. Chloroform has been linked to nervous system effects including dizziness, nausea, and headaches.

aperture_lag/Flickraperture_lag/FlickrAs with the Simple Green cleaner, Pine Sol Original Formula also showed it contained toluene. Both brands have been marketed to women, WVE says.

rocknroll_guitar/Flickrrocknroll_guitar/FlickrGalaxolide was also detected in Febreze Air Effects, a much-favored household fragrance spray. The lesson? Next time you want to strip away the smell of garbage in your home, you just might want to go with some citrus rinds or vanilla extract.

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