DINING IN A CHANGED WORLD AND THE DAY AFTER

During this period of semi-isolation we have had the chance to indulge in activities that “BC” we wouldn’t have had the time or inclination to pursue. We have also been spending a lot of time being inundated with information on how to cope and change our lifestyle during these unprecedented days of confinement and lock down.

Suddenly it has become crucial to re-learn how to cook and  searching on-line for cooking videos and recipes has become de rigueur. Instagram is awash with self- congratulatory images and stories of our latest cooking triumphs, from how to bake sourdough bread to cooking beans and a trillion things to do with a can of tuna.

But it is also important to stress that this is a temporary situation and there will be a “day after”!

One thing is for sure, there has been a massive rethink about our eating habits.  Forcing us suddenly to see food as not only a basic need and a sometime indulgence but also an issue of survival. The coronavirus has compelled us to think afresh of how to feed ourselves and our families. Focusing on what we are consuming, where and how it is sourced, produced and stored. We are learning to be self-sufficient again in the kitchen, preparing meals for ourselves and the family from limited supplies and learning how to produce food items that we once wouldn’t dream of making ourselves.

So how will the day after the coronavirus change the way we eat?

Home cooking will rejuvenate as Covid-19 changes our eating attitudes and behaviors

The  pandemic is predicted to drastically change dining habits in Asian countries. People are expected to eat less from street vendors and more at home.  So the question is with the West seemingly being more devastated than Asia, how will the rest of the world’s eating habits change?

With the possibility of regular food sources being disrupted, restaurants still closed and apprehensions about food safety, home cooking and eating in will become more a matter of everyday routine other than a sometime social event. Reluctance and/or the prohibition of public gathering will encourage the home cooking trend to continue for some time post pandemic.

Another result of increased cooking awareness will be an encouraged interest in and sales of cooking equipment staples, meal kits and accompaniments to meals.

The anticipated interruption of global supply chains and closing of borders due to COVID-19 will impact foreign food production and reduce imports.

There will be greater focus on eating local andconsumers will want to know the source of their food, making an increased desire for produce to be sourced from cooperative supported agriculture and farms. A heightened awareness around food safety and a desire for more nutritious food will also increase demand for eating local.

Healthy and Organic Eating

It is to be expected that there will be an increased demand for organic food, vegan and vegetarian food options. Wanting healthier eating options as a result of the pandemic will become more and more of increased consequence.

The daily tallies of Coronavirus fatalities broadcast, mainly attributed to people with increased risks due to pre-existing health conditions such as diabetes and heart disease but also those who are overweight and obese will encourage the importance of healthier foods and cooking styles and will greatly influence our eating habits.

Even going as far as the establishment of urban farming. In fact even before this interruption in our usual way of life certain cities (Singapore for example) have been encouraging roof top urban farming.

People have been cultivating small vegetable gardens near homes plots or on balconies forever, but I am predicting that this will now become an everyday way of feeding ourselves as in days gone by.  In any case gardening is a form of therapy and it is a fact that physical interaction with living plants is good for our mental health.

Growing our own food is a basic human endeavor and frees us from the confines of commercialism and will become part of our daily routine.

The  quarantine imposed upon us has perhaps given us the opportunity to get to know our “inner gardener”– growing plants from seeds to create a food ration, even for the occupants of  multi-story buildings. Urban farming and indoor gardens not only can produce food, but also is a catalyst  for producing oxygen. The trend in green walls and indoor gardens has been around for many years, but now we will be exploring the full potential it offers for self-sustainable living.

Going underground is also an option where we can develop underground basement gardens, even producing other home products e.g. cheese or even wine. This would open up an additional industry for  equipment here: artificial lighting, water and air filtration, soil fertilizer. But it will be worth it for fresh tomatoes and our own wine and cheese!

Although social distancing and self-sustained dining will become the new normal for the foreseeable future, dining and eating together are not entirely going to disappear.

Dining out safety and a new era in social dining

It is said that you can check the hygiene standards of a restaurant by the level of cleanliness in their toilets. This will be even more indicative of our dining out ethic once we get back to social dining out.

Currently it has not been shown and there is  no evidence that COVID-19 can be transmitted via food, yet consumers’ dining habits have already been affected.  Precisely because of the now heightened  fear of catching coronavirus from food, even those amongst  us who are convinced that this is not likely still have an elevated appreciation about food safety that has extended from our home kitchens to restaurant kitchens

The restaurant sector has been one of the worst-affected service segments due to Covid-19 and is expected to take longer to recover and in the post-lockdown days this sector will see a slow recovery as, little by little we return to congregating in crowded spaces. In order to ensure that diners feel safe while eating out, restaurants will introduce measures to make them feel at ease and once we return to social eating our dining experience will assume a considerably different aspect.

Hotels, restaurants , bars and all culinary gatherings will introduce social distancing norms to minimize the coronavirus risks. Diners will  be welcomed by hostesses and wait staff wearing gloves and masks. Sanitation gel bottles will be in evidence at the entrance.

Fewer tables spaced further apart with the seating arrangement almost halved from the pre-virus norm of fitting as many dining spaces as usual.

Traditional restaurants along with other F&B establishments will have trained the staff to keep a safe distance from the diners even the possible doing away with personal order taking and adopt the fast food concept of no touch digital menu boards or self-order pads with waiters bringing the  food orders but not serving at the tables.

Further steps taken to assure the highest hygiene level could include not letting diners touch the doors ( all automated) and to minimize the surface contact, table mats will be removed. Cutlery, crockery and glass ware will not be pre-set. They will be stored in sanitized cupboards and as and when required will be brought and placed on the table to reduce the chance of contamination.

The already established hygiene norms of all tables and kitchen surfaces to be cleaned sanitized every 4 hour and all cutlery and plate ware washed in dish-washers with effective soap solutions where water temperature is at the 80-degree mark will be strictly monitored and inspections by health and sanitation workers to insure compliance will be compulsory and enforced on all public dining establishments  .

All in all it will be evident that eating out will become a much more specialized experience and it appears at least for the time being that those most challenged in the food business sector will be restaurants, food stands and vendors and will be affected until they are able to evolve accordingly and offer meals and services with minimal human touch points

A reduced demand for exotic and salacious foods

The inference that the Wuhan seafood market where exotic wildlife were slaughtered for human consumption and is where the coronavirus is thought to have originated has highlighted the danger of farming and consumption of exotic animals. This will most certainly translate in decreased demand for exotic animals in these areas and even in the west people’s culinary tastes will revert back to more conservative menu items….

In summary until the havoc caused by the pandemic dies down, there will continue to be stockpiling of pantry items such as canned foods, energy drinks, dried pulses, crackers and frozen vegetables….just in case!

There will be a natural aversion to being exposed to crowds for quite some time which will make the penchant for online purchasing of food, take-out and delivery to continue and to convert into the norm. Although this will be mitigated by food safety concerns and a growing dependence on self-sustainability.

This changed world will be where both the consumer and the business owners will have to make conscious efforts to meet the needs of the new post-pandemic mindset.

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