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Preparing the Food

“I think it is the empathy, the way we communicate and tell our customers what we are doing in the kitchen every day, with care”

“We had to adjust our menu and to test different forms of packaging”

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 desolate during the long lockdown period, she and her husband continued to bake in their shop. As far as the ingredients, she mostly buys from local farms seasonal, organic food, whenever possible.

He admitted that, in some cases, he closes down the Glovo app when alone, in order to be able to slow down the work pace.

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

Asked about his relationship with delivery workers now that he is on the other side of the counter, he explained how he tries to pay specific attention to their needs. Prompted to give some examples, he mentioned how he tries to prepare the food as fast as possible so the delivery cyclists do not need to wait, recalling the stressful timelines he experienced while in their position. He is in fact well aware of the value of time for delivery workers and explained how, for example, Glovo often miscalculates times so the delivery cyclist arrives too early to collect the food. In this way, delivery cyclists are actually missing out the opportunity to take another order in the meantime. Of course, this means that customers might have to wait a bit longer. In fact, the restaurant where the interviewee works is small (there is another colleague and the owner; they mostly do shifts; there are just a few seats for customers inside), and mostly offer take-away choices. Sometimes, he is alone and he has to manage delivery cyclists plus the customers queuing in front of the door, all waiting for their orders. On top of that, there are orders made by phone. Meanwhile, he actually has to prepare the food. He admitted that, in some cases, he closes down the Glovo app when alone, in order to be able to slow down the work pace.

Read the full interview report, here

One of the most interesting aspects emerging from the above interviews is the contradictory relation with customers in the digital platform era, especially when related to food preparation. On one side, there is the quite romantic image of Sara and her husband, taking advantage of the digital connection to feel less lonely and to build closer relations with their clientele during the lockdown period. In this sense, being able to constantly feed their social media channels with stills from their daily cooking activities has proven to be a success factor for their business: the digital sphere helped them connect on a personal level with customers, who have eventually turned into loyal customers, sometimes even ‘real’ ones entering their shop when finally possible. Also, the increased exposure to such desirable food via internet images has helped reach more ‘hungry brains’ (see, Spence et al, 2016). On the other side, instead, there is the experience of Mark, facing the overlapping presence of the on-demand customers plus the ‘real’ customers waiting at the restaurant door. In this case, digital technologies seem to have just amplified the stress and the burden of his work by duplicating the amount of orders to satisfy in a short amount of time. It is clear then, that Mark is not the one in control of time and of the virtual connections, rather, the algorithms are expressing the multiple power structures he has to deal with (Chen & Sun, 2020).

This proves that it is increasingly important to take into consideration and to include the influence of the digital in any ethnographic study in order to fully grasp the interactions between humans and with the many virtual and real geographies “by” and “of” the digital (i.e. influenced by the digital and digital treated as a geographical item itself) (Ash et al., 2018). Nowadays we all think “through” the internet, therefore the mediation of the digital is ever present and integrated in our own way(s) to conceive and to shape physical and cultural context(s). As researching and analysing anything pertaining to human life and space becomes extremely complex and nuanced, embracing a broader understanding of spatiality and culture to integrate the virtual world as a doppelganger of our physical world is crucial in order to explore and to understand how it influences human geography.

References

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

Chen, J. Y., & Sun, P. (2020). Temporal arbitrage, fragmented rush, and opportunistic behaviors: The labor politics of time in the platform economy. New Media & Society, 22(9), 1561–1579. https://doi.org/10.1177/1461444820913567

Kinsley, S. (2014). The matter of ‘virtual’ geographies. Progress in Human Geography, 38(3), 364–384. https://doi.org/10.1177/0309132513506270 

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