Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Lunch Meat: A Modern Fable

 Meet Mr. Koothrappalli. He has no relation to the similarly named character on The Big Bang Theory; it’s just an astonishing (and completely legal) coincidence. Mr. Koothrappalli opened his furniture store in suburban New Jersey several years ago, and the first was so successful that he was able to branch out and open other stores in the local area, and later throughout the state. He has even managed to open some stores in neighboring Pennsylvania and New York. He employs over 150 people full-time and is enjoying his own rags-to-riches success story.
Mr. Koothrappalli long ago decided that as a way to keep his employees healthy and happy, he would offer meals to his workers, free of charge. Whenever they take their lunch break or afternoon snack break, there is a full selection of food for them in the employee break area. Iced water, tea, and soft drinks are available as well. There is no requirement for them to partake, but many do, or supplement their home-packed lunches with items from the “Big K Menu,” as they call it. The Big K is offered at all of his furniture store locations to any of his employees. Leftovers are taken to local homeless shelters. Mr. Koothrappalli is proud to run a clean business that provides jobs and service to the local community.
lunch-2However, things have gotten a bit tougher recently. A new law, the “Employees Always Take Lunch” or “EAT Lunch” act, was passed in Congress. This law requires that any company with over fifty employees that offers lunch must offer a full menu of twenty different items. Naturally, those items include chicken, turkey, and dairy products like milk and cheese. That’s a problem because Mr. Koothrappalli is Hindu and, in keeping with the teachings of his religion, is a strict vegetarian who offers no meat or dairy in his menu. The employees don’t complain; after all, the food does not cost them anything, and they are of course free to bring their own food if they don’t like what the Big K offers. But the law is the law, and if Mr. Koothrappalli does not expand his menu accordingly, he must pay thousands of dollars in fines per day, per employee. Needless to say, his business is not so successful that he can afford that.
Mr. Koothrappalli joined some other businesses in a lawsuit to ask for an exemption from the law. After all, what they were doing was completely legal before the new law was passed, and several non-profits, like many local PETA branches, were allowed exemptions. Surely he should be free to run his family-owned business and provide food to his employees without having to compromise his religious beliefs! Fortunately for him, the Supreme Court agreed. The new law went too far, and he could provide whatever menu he wished as long as he did not prevent his workers from purchasing and consuming their own food of choice.
But that’s when the protests began. The day after the ruling, hundreds of protestors showed up outside his main showroom door. None of these protestors were familiar; they certainly hadn’t worked for him before. But there they were, large poster board signs in hand, chanting “meat is neat!” and other trite catchphrases. Mr. Koothrappalli made his way through the gauntlet of protestors and sat down at his desk. There were angry voicemail messages on the phone. There were outrageous accusations on his company Facebook and Twitter pages. Irate editorials in the newspapers and screaming commentators on the news channels. And there were reports that similar protests were popping up at his other locations.
“He wants us to starve!”
“K hates American food!”
“We won’t stand for cafetyranny!”
“The average worker can’t live on this type of diet!”
Mr. Koothrappalli could not believe what he was seeing. For years, he had offered his beloved employees free food. They had never complained, to him or anyone else. He had sued simply to protect his First Amendment rights, and now the worst accusations were being hurled against him. A reporter for one of the local stations called for a comment.
“I don’t understand all this. I have never shown bias to anyone! Most of my employees are Christians, and they have never complained about this. I treat my employees well. I give part-time jobs to low-income kids so they get a paycheck and experience and can stay off the streets. I pay above minimum wage to my full-time employees. I offered lunch to them before the law required it, and then the law changed everything. I challenged the new rules to protect my personal beliefs, and my challenge was vindicated. And yet now, somehow I’m the bad guy…? I guess some Americans aren’t as tolerant as they like to claim they are. Wait, don’t include that last part–they’ll think I hate this country, even though I was born and raised here.”

No comments:

Post a Comment