As I sit reflecting on how much our environments have changed since February, you cannot help but ask what a new normal may look like. It is clear that every form of everyday life has been affected. While I write this in the dining room of my work, I cannot help but feel out of place. Why am I taking my finals in a shut down dining room? Will the dining room ever hold the same amount of people? If so, when? What will the future be for restaurants?
Since quarantine started around the United States restaurants have had to pivot or shut down. My employer, Cantina 229, has adapted to family style take out meals with a different menu each week. Luckily the restaurant has been able to remain open and in return be able to support local agriculture. On the other hand Restaurants such as Prune in New York City have had to shut their doors.
In an article published in the New York Times, Gabrielle Hamilton, the Chef and owner of Prune described in a deeply emotional piece the hard decision to shut their doors. During the article Hamilton describes the realization that post COVID dining may be different. She writes, “But I know few of us will come back as we were. And that doesn’t seem to me like a bad thing at all; perhaps it will be a chance for a correction,” going on to explain, “For restaurants, coronavirus-mandated closures are like the oral surgery or appendectomy you suddenly face while you are uninsured. These closures will take out the weakest and the most vulnerable.” These types of conversations are similar to ones that my coworkers have had during staff meals. Questions are raised such as, what can we do in the meantime waiting? Or when we can finally open what will that look like?
Commonly we think of a spreading of tables to incorporate social distancing. It may also take changing the menu to accomodate a buffet delivery system, or a small expensive tasting menu inside. But what do we do in the meantime? The answer seems to be to make the best food possible while also attempting to support ethical clean local food.
Making agricultural headlines today we look at journalists reporting on meat shortages. Today the Wall Street Journal published an article titled, A Smart Guide to the U.S. Meat Shortage. Highlighted in buying limits and regulation as COVID spreads into meat facilities we need to ask questions about our agricultural system. First, we can look at it from an ethical point of view. Do we as humans want to be consuming meat going through a facility so large? I recall a time at Cantina when we received new pigs. We were feeding them when a coworker decided he may not be able to eat them when butcher time came. My boss replied with a thought out quiet response, “these pigs live a great life everyday, we do everything we can to make sure they have the best time possible. In the end they have one bad day the day we take them to be butchered. The meat you buy at the supermarket, those pigs don’t have the same happiness.” Perhaps it isn’t so bad we eat less meat. Maybe we should focus on eating the right meat.
The United States eats more meat than any other country in the world. According to an article by Business Insider, we consume 198.5 Lbs of meat per person per year. Europe consumes on average 50 Lbs less than we do. Perhaps the question we should be asking as environmentalists and cooks is not only how to support local farmers but also our use of meat. Maybe it is the chefs job to redesign restaurants. COVID serves as an opportunity to redefine cooking and american gastronomy. With meat causing a problem to the United States consumer, a new diet could be the answer to both chefs as well as the general public. It is my belief the future of restaurants relies on a movement which is pushing for ethical sustainable food.