The changes to the food system brought on by Covid-19 have been disruptive, disorienting—and, very occasionally, delightful.
Here’s the TLDR to our field guide on how we eat now.
1️⃣ No matter what your life looked like before Covid-19, your meals have adapted.
2️⃣ We’re cooking and ordering groceries more mindfully.
3️⃣ We’re pining for meals out—even a drive-through is a thrill—as local restaurants struggle.
4️⃣ And our relationship with food, from dieting to food security, is changing.
5️⃣ The shifts may be temporary, but their underlying causes are permanent.
Nine months into the pandemic, Quartz looked at the biggest gastronomical shifts around the globe, and the local and multinational businesses being impacted by them. Who benefits, who’s harmed, and when this is all over, which changes will last?
Whether it’s shifts in home cooking, the suffering restaurant industry, or the role of food in our culture and politics, we found a mix of creative solutions to difficult situations, ingenious adaptations to short-term shortages, and even some hope for the future.
Global lockdowns and restrictive stay-at-home orders have forced many people to spend more time in the kitchen. For those with the time and the income, that’s encouraged a reckoning with the quality of the ingredients that make up their meals, and the chance to slow down.
Lockdowns also prompted more people to turn to grocery delivery—and often to do so in bulk. Grocery stores have had to innovate fast, not something they’re traditionally known for. While delivery has brought convenience to consumers, the risk is that the gap between those who can and can’t afford regular grocery delivery will continue to widen.
The pandemic and work-from-home orders may have temporarily killed the office lunch, but culinary historians are confident that it will return, and may even inspire us to step away from our sad desk meals. “Everybody who’s working from home realizes that all of the work stuff can be done at home, and that part of the reason that we go to work, part of the thing that makes work okay, is the other people there,” says author and lunch expert Megan Elias. “That connection is going to seem more precious.” Until then, we’re getting our kicks from fast food drive-throughs, which are reporting a boom in business.
Ultimately, struggling restaurants are going to need a renewed passion for eating out or dining in when things return to normal. While delivery apps are giving local spots a chance at previously unimaginable scale, their commission and marketing fees can make it hard to turn a profit. That’s inspired some local restaurants to experiment.
Food has been a familiar source of comfort during the pandemic. Some people have used the slower pace of life to eat more healthily than they might have before. For others, the stress has led to emotional eating—and sometimes weight gain. As people look to get rid of their Covid 15 or simply create some sort of food routine, they may be eschewing more rigid, regimented diet plans for looser ones.
The pandemic has also forced us to reckon with our relationship with food as societies—from the role of schools in feeding children, to how food insecure our communities are. One silver lining is that the pandemic has provided policymakers a laboratory to understand the role of different interventions to stem food insecurity, including universal basic income.
The pandemic has simply exposed and accelerated the changes that were already underway in the world’s food systems. A shift toward remote, digital delivery systems sped toward profitability; a precarious global food system became even less stable.
What we can hope for is that consumers, businesses, and policymakers take note of those changes, and cling tight to the lessons they provide. Shifts in global access to more sustainable food sources, provisions for school lunches, and most impactfully, a shift in the global approach to universal basic income can all help nourish the world, long after the pandemic has receded.