Will the Coronavirus Change our Attitude to Food, Issue 4

Increasingly, Canadians have been eating in restaurants, ordering takeout, and  buying prepared meals. A 2017 Dalhousie University study determined that 42% of Canadians were eating restaurant-prepared or ready made meals at least once or twice a week.  Both percentage and frequency have likely increased over the last three years.  

In an October 2019 Atlantic Magazine article Amanda Mull wrote: Women now devote a little more than half the average time per day to cooking compared with 1965. Men cook a bit more on average, but their increased time in the kitchen is not nearly enough to make up the difference. Fast food has proliferated to fill that gap, especially among low-wage workers who most lack resources and control of their own time. More recently, the rapid expansion of pricier “fast-casual” chains that claim healthier and fresher offerings suggests that an even broader proportion of the population is now looking for quick fixes.

Due to the current pandemic, singles, couples, and families are being encouraged to self-isolate and observe social distancing. As a consequence, restaurants of all sizes and types are closed, albeit many are continuing to offer or have started to offer delivery or pick-up service. Services such as Uber Eats are reportedly very busy. Maybe most “eat out” and “take out” junkies are still getting their restaurant and fast food fix at the same frequency as before the current pandemic isolation measures were implemented, but somehow I don’t think so. 

Grocery stores are open and busy and shopping carts are overflowing with shoppers attempting to get in  fourteen days of food supplies. My neighbourhood stores have been generally well stocked. So far there is lots of fresh produce and meat available. The Fruits de Mer du Québec freezer is always full so there is lots of good fish available ( https://fdmq.ca/produits/ ).  There are predictably empty shelves in the prepared meals, frozen vegetable , and pasta sections but it is some of the other shortages that are surprising. Yeast and flour: bread making has become the newest hot activity. The “legumes” section: do the people buying up dried beans, split peas, and lentils even know what they are?  Or are they buying legumes because they are on every list of what foods to have in case of pro-longed food shortages? Sugar, herbs, and spices can be difficult to find. It would appear that time at home is leading to a kitchen revolution. 

I heard parents with a particularly full shopping cart tell the cashier that they had never before bought half the items in their basket and that they were using recipe books or on-line recipes to compile their shopping lists. Previously prepared-food and restaurant food habitués, their children had caught the bug for home-prepared meals and  now the family was teaching itself how to cook and enjoying their time in the kitchen. This is clearly anecdotal but I don’t think that these parents are alone in the rediscovery of the kitchen. The home bound are reconnecting with the importance of food and the potential fragility of the food  supply system. 

I am not sure of the long term implications but I think that we may see a long-term reversal in the number of take-out  and restaurant meals and sales of prepared foods as many people will gain a greater appreciation of more delicious home cooked meals from fresh ingredients; and, the probable health benefits that are derived from eating much less salt, processed sugar, fats, and preservatives, which are pumped into fast food and prepared foods. With the self-isolation practices currently in place and more “forced” time in the kitchen , there may be a realization that it can be easier and quicker to prepare a more nutritious and better-tasting meal at home rather than it is to pick up restaurant meals or re-heat prepared foods at home. Cooking classes were becoming an increasingly popular tourist activity on Airbnb and Viator. Will there be a surge of popularity in these classes when at home, posit-COVID. 

There has been concern that we will run out of certain foods. We are reliant on a complex food delivery system for much of our fresh produce and other food stuffs from around the world. If you have been following the Québec Government news conferences, you will have heard Premier Legault start to lay out an industrial plan for economic recovery and one of the cornerstones will be investment in the agri-food sector. He has specifically mentioned the development of greenhouse capacity. In his column entitled  “A brave if alarming ,new world” John Ivison states: Senior-policy-makers say they have been fostering domestic food production as an insurance policy against imports drying up, for example, checking with food producers to see if greenhouse capacity is being fully exploited”. This has implications for the real estate industry – more farm land will remain farm land and there will likely be a greater push for urban agriculture. 

Anyone who knows me is well aware that I like good restaurants and a good restaurant meal. I think we learn much more about the people we do business with over lunch than on a golf course. Occasionally, it is nice to get out of the kitchen and to be served delicious food in a great atmosphere and without the need to clean up.  I am a very competent cook and I am not reliant on restaurants for excellent meals but many of my favourite places may not survive the shut down so I have resolved to buy one meal a week from my preferred establishments. I encourage you to do the same. In Montreal:

Just a short list – I am sure that everyone has their own favourites. Also, I don’t if it is only a Québec thing but these restaurants will also sell wine with meal orders.

Buy local where possible! Support your favourite restaurants! Think about where food comes from! And as always – wash your hands, practice social distancing, hydrate, and exercise! Keep well!

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