The pandemic has turned us into “farm-to-fork” fans

Here to stay.
Here to stay.
Image: REUTERS/Wolfgang Rattay
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Coronavirus lockdowns over the last year have had an outsized impact on some of the world’s eating habits, including a desire to eat more healthily, and have a great connection to the source of our food.

This impulse was captured in a recent survey by the European Institute of Innovation & Technology (EIT Food). The food innovation consortium of industry players, startups, research centers, and universities interviewed 5,000 European adults consumers across 10 countries to track some of the food-related behavior changes brought on by the pandemic.

Around 35% of respondents to the survey said that they had begun buying more local produce since the Covid-19 pandemic began, with 87% indicating that they would continue to buy food locally, even once the pandemic ends.

They survey followed on the heels of a European Union communique calling for measures to help consumers eat in healthy and sustainable ways. The effort behind its “farm-to-fork strategy” was driven, it wrote, by the “inextricable links between healthy people, healthy societies, and a healthy planet.” It noted that the pandemic “has also made us acutely aware of the interrelations between our health, ecosystems, supply chains, consumption patterns and planetary boundaries.”

This shift isn’t restricted to Europe or the developed world. Last November, we explored how the pandemic had seen pockets of urban Indians drawn towards buying and eating more locally produced food. For those spending more time in the kitchen during Covid-19 lockdowns—either by force because of the lack of house help, or by design to level-up their culinary skills—sourcing ingredients from hyperlocal farms had become a newly acquired habit.

Farms, in turn, used Instagram and other social media to educate consumers about ethical, chemical-free produce, seasonal fruit and vegetables, and the benefits of buying local produce for the planet. For instance, Krishi Cress, a farmer’s collective on the outskirts of Delhi, began selling to individual, household consumers, instead of solely being an institutional supplier.

Farm collectives were also aided by chefs who used their social media followings to share recipes for bored, locked-down Indians. Collaborations between chefs and farms also led to the concept of curated boxes, where all the ingredients required for a recipe could be ordered in one go (the global meal kit industry, which bases part of its value proposition on reduced food wastage and quality ingredients, is expected to be a $20 billion industry by 2027, although it’s unclear how committed consumers are to the idea long-term).

In addition to buying more locally, the survey found that the pandemic had also pushed people to shop more in bulk and online, and to shop more carefully. Not all of the results from EIT Food’s survey were positive, however. Many respondents reported struggling to make ends meet, with some consumers turning to snacks and booze for comfort.

Ultimately the survey anticipates that many of the behavior changes will be outlast the pandemic. “Consumers changed how they shopped and consumed food almost overnight, and there are no signs of going back to ‘business as usual’ after lockdown measures lift,” EIT Food’s director of communication, Saskia Nuijten, said in a statement.

More conscious eating, aided partly by the idea of boosting one’s immunity against disease, may be one of the changes to survive. “I think a lot of people have had time to slow down,” Marryam H Reshii, a food writer who shuttles between Delhi and Kashmir, told Quartz. “Some have seen illnesses in close circles, others have lost jobs. I don’t think anyone is going back on a consumerist binge anytime soon.”