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Food Consumption

“For me, food has [...] three purposes. One is nourishment, the other one's for pleasure and a third one might be for community and social interactivity. And obviously, this last year, the last point hasn't been very relevant.”        

Simon (fictitious name) Berlin, Germany

Resident and consumer of delivery services

Simon has been a resident of Berlin for the past four years; he frequently uses food delivery services and has tried most of the options available at one time or another. Over the past year he was quarantined alone in his apartment on two separate occasions during which time he was entirely reliant on food delivery to eat.

Simon’s reflections on what he identified as the three purposes of food is interesting from a “more than food” perspective (Goodman, 2016). His remarks highlight how much of the joy in food is being lost through a lack of social interaction. His experience of eating at home has become more visceral since the social elements of eating have been removed. He mentioned that while he was in isolation he ate much more because he had food in his apartment and he had nothing else to do. For Simon, being in isolation changed his experience of food and eating more than just the removal of its social elements, eating became a visceral activity in itself to pass the time.

Read the full interview report, here

Simon’s behaviour creates traces of his lived experience in Berlin during corona times, but I believe his experiences are shared by many others. And while the delivery of prepared foods have seen a sharp increase during the pandemic, Simon’s perspective shows that the social aspect of eating is more important than the convenience of eating at home for some people. This leads me to believe that prepared food delivery will most likely drop down to pre-pandemic levels after pandemic restrictions and regulations are rescinded, which is relevant not only for regular you, me and Simon, but also for the chefs who make our foods. Chef Shawn Adler of Toronto, Canada explains in a podcast interview ( timecode: 6:00-7:00) how much he misses seeing his customers eating and enjoying his food. His food is now being consumed from the solitude of peoples homes instead.

We can see traces of food delivery platforms by what people can and do eat during the pandemic. In the same interview Alder also explains how he drastically shifted the business model of his cafes because his previous menu was not suitable for takeaway. An article by Dot Foods (link) explains how restaurants are changing to meet the needs of the Covid pandeming; one major element is that menus are being simplified, streamlined and made delivery friendly. It is fairly intuitive to understand that it is easier to deliver a pizza than a steak dinner – there is a reason why pizza has been a classic delivery food for decades. Beyond steaks, what other types of food are not being consumed due to difficulties in this new delivery market, what kinds of restaurants now face extra difficulties, what are the health consequences of this shift in meal options? These are all important questions which are in need of more research and analysis. The rapid shift to delivery foods will have many long lasting impacts that are now yet visible but which require our attention non the less.

“I miss the connection one can create by sharing a meal. In normal times, I always have friends showing up and we catch up while preparing good food together. It is a way to take care of a friend and to establish a deeper connection: that’s the thing I miss the most”

Location: Turin, Italy
Interviewee: Mark (fictitious name) former delivery cyclist, now restaurant worker

The interviewee was currently in quarantine for Covid-19. As he had been in self-isolation for the past two weeks, he had to rely on deliveries himself. He explained how he tries to avoid platform services because he has first-hand experience of the struggles and the lack of rights such workers have. Yet, many times he simply could not help it.

Read the full interview report, here

“I am always communicating via social media and this has helped me stay afloat but I miss seeing in front of me the moment when a person tries for the first time one of my pastries, to see my shop full of people”.

Location: Turin, Italy
Interviewee: Sara, pastry shop owner

The young entrepreneur Sara ended up in the food business by chance. A few years earlier, she found out she was completely intolerant to eggs and dairy. As a result, she started experimenting with food. Eventually, with her husband, Sara decided to turn her hobby into a business. In March 2020, she opened up a bakery shop, just when the Covid-19 pandemic struck. As the city became empty during the long lockdown period, she and her husband continued to bake in the shop, while promoting their business mostly through social media channels.

Read the full interview report, here

The above quotes highlight how, as physical spaces and encounters are replaced by virtual ones, there is a sense of nostalgia and longing for not-digitally-mediated human experiences.

Food is in fact deeply embedded in social practices. Historically, “sharing food within a kinship group [...] was generally positively valued”; it marked membership, gave a sense of belonging to a local community and excluded those who were considered as outsiders (Spitz, 1985). Food therefore traces human connections and creates bonds. Food also establishes relations and positions of power. Nowadays, urban dwellers are non-food producers, depending solidly on the provision and distribution of available food products and services in the city. With the exception of the urban poor, in normal times most of the people can still access food provisions and reinforce social bonds via food sharing. Nonetheless, the current pandemic has temporarily disrupted this paradigm, as city dwellers have lost their power to create bonds by meeting in person to share meals. In addition, the digital has become one of the main access points for food (i.e. exposing further the digital divide and the number of “outsiders” not fully having ensured their right to food). As a result, the power of online food services is higher than ever, and it has to be carefully considered - and mitigated. In fact, not only  is it affecting the way human beings interact with space and among each other, but it is also changing the way we perceive and make our food decisions. Continuous online stimuli and visual food cues, driven by algorithmic calculations, are making our eyes “hungry” and, many times, unable to rationally make healthy food choices. As both our conscious and our automatic decisions are nowadays mostly taken through our smartphones, we - as consumers, as human beings - must raise our own awareness and pay attention to the traces signalling ongoing changes in our foodscapes, to which we might be inadvertently contributing.

See also: Placing the Order

References

Adach, K. (201 C.E.). Pow wow pivot: How one Indigenous chef found new ways to keep food on the table. CBC.

Ash, J., Kitchin, R., & Leszczynski, A. (2018). Digital turn, digital geographies? Progress in Human Geography, 42(1), 25–43. https://doi.org/10.1177/0309132516664800

DOT Foods. (2020). 10 Ways Menus Have Changed During COVID-19. Dot Foods.

Goodman, M. K. (2016). Food geographies I. Progress in Human Geography, 40(2), 257–266. https://doi.org/10.1177/0309132515570192 

Spence, C., Okajima, K., Cheok, A. D., Petit, O., & Michel, C. (2016). Eating with our eyes: From visual hunger to digital satiation. Brain and Cognition, 110, 53–63. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.bandc.2015.08.006 

Spitz, P. (1985). The right to food in historical perspective. Food Policy, 10(4), 306–316. https://doi.org/10.1016/0306-9192(85)90022-3