A letter on Corona without limes. Takeaway food and Darwinism.

People will argue that this great pruning is being caused by Mother Nature clearing out the infection that humans have become. Heck, I’ve heard people (who believe humans were destined to rule the earth and play on a different ball game than animals entirely) suddenly start spewing words on social Darwinism and survival of the fittest because they refuse to isolate themselves to prevent everybody and their grandmas from potentially getting infected. Oh, the irony.

As much as the economic forces reflect that image of adaptation – that only the businesses who are most capable of adapting to market situations will be the ones who come out on top, while the rest go bankrupt and close their doors for good is true. Or, in sticking with the analogy of Darwinism – Die. We cannot forget that in times of greatest need, societies throughout time have been able to put down their rolls of toilet paper, or whatever their equivalents were – and come together in support of one another to ensure the survival of their people. (A nice way of saying people at some point dig their thumbs out of their own asshole and help one another.)

It would be naive for people to simply say that the restaurant industry will survive because people will always need food and landowners will always need people to rent their lots, then proceed to turn their backs away from the problem while ignoring the local farmer’s market on the way to [insert supermarket chain here] all while posting on Facebook about how infuriating it is that bats in Wuhan are somehow responsible for Carla not being able to have her margaritas at the beach because they canceled her flights planned for her Instagram stories.

The fact of the matter is, the restaurant industry as a whole is taking a blow like nothing it’s seen in recent memory. Thousands of restaurants are closing their doors for good across the globe, leaving an innumerable amount of chefs and waiting staff out a job with tons of produce left to rot (the number of layoffs is in the millions, already.) Cities and towns all over will find that many of the restaurants in their neighborhood will simply not open their doors again once the quarantine periods are over, and even amongst those that survive, over half of them will have laid off staff members to cope. It’s a dire situation, and everyone from your local butcher up to world-renowned cooks are worried for what the future holds for our beloved industry.

The shifting sands

If there is indeed any light to be found in these dark times, the most evident place for it to be found is in the solidarity that the restaurant industry has always had between its crosshairs – a solidarity that extends beyond borders and across oceans. Cooks are like sports teams, except we’re all one large group of psychos who love knives, heat and transforming raw ingredients into magical things. We take pride in what we do, and we love to cook for others. I do believe that it is in times of need like these, that the overwhelming desire to help one another as well as our communities boils to the surface. Restaurants all across the globe have created initiatives to provide food for their communities, with the goal of ensuring that as many people as possible who have been affected by Covid-19 are able find comfort in knowing that, for as long as time allows, at least, there will be warm food on their tables.

But what about the money, what about the mass layoffs taking place? Community work like this is all well and good, but that won’t ultimately pay salaries, and the reduction in team sizes still leaves many people jobless. As soon as governments across the globe instated rulings that forced restaurants to close their on-premises seating areas, it became evident that the only way for restaurants to survive was a switch to a takeaway food model. However, the solution for the survival of restaurants isn’t just about putting things in Tupperware and putting them in a plastic bag – the entire approach to the sale of food needs to be turned on its head and reworked. Chefs across the board need to rethink their approach to the service they provide.

Amidst the uncertainty of this all, the desire for fancy food goes out the window – not only are the amount of people willing to pay premium for food dwindling, but the increased stress on the daily lives of everyone creates an opportunity for menus that focus on home-style food; dishes that make people forget that people around them are getting the boot. We need to remember that there’s much more to food than just sustenance or pleasure; food provides comfort, and it doesn’t get more comforting than home food. And if anyone doubts this fact, Chef Grant Achatz has switched his world-renowned restaurant into a take-out joint selling meals for $35. It is also imperative for chefs to analyze their connections to not only their customers but also their suppliers and other players in the industry. Critical opportunities for partnerships and collaborations are present, as seen by restaurants who have shifted their spaces to turn into markets of local produce from their farmers. Chefs like JJ Johnson in the US as well as chefs across the pond over in Europe have found ways to keep their heads above the water and retain staff by shifting their business models and catering to the immense demands for food by hospitals flooded with patients and the staff in the front lines of the outbreak.

While the situation is dire, not all hope is lost. “Where there is a will, there is a way” – or so the saying goes. New avenues for income are surfacing as the world adapts to the Covid-19 outbreak, and they’re ripe for the taking. The industry is seeing world-wide solidarity within, and we’re not just going to stick this out as the large family of chefs and restauranteurs we’ve always been – we’ll kick it in the teeth and come out on top.

“In the long history of humankind (and animal kind, too) those who have learned to collaborate and improvise more effectively have prevailed.” – Charles Dawrin.