The food system is a complex mechanism. It’s also a fragile one, which COVID-19 has put beyond any doubt. Some dairy farmers have poured as much as 6,000 litres of milk away each day; fishers have watched the price of their catch plummet overnight; and meat megacorps, acknowledging the brittleness of their food supply chain, have resorted to euthanizing some of their livestock.
Whether big chains or neighbourhood bistros, hospitality hasn’t gone through the best of times either. Many are staring into the abyss until something can be done about their largest expenditure – rent – amid minimal returns. In the meantime, they (and their regulars) have found a lifeline in delivery. Kricket are rolling out curry kits to local homes, Patty & Bun are supplying special lockdown patties to those within the M25 – and now, beyond – while AngloThai are introducing Thai sausage hotdogs to Londoners’ mouths. All from a safe distance, of course. More recently, we’ve teamed up with the incredible talent that is James Cochran, answering the fried chicken gods’ prayers with his Jamaican Jerk Chicken Burger.
Even with delivery, restaurants’ business is much slower than usual. What does that mean for their suppliers? Well, some shoppers’ grocery lists look a lot more sophisticated, featuring white asparagus, stoneground flour, native lobster, and 3-kilo wheels of Baron Bigod. Local stores are soaking up the change in demands too – Notting Hill Fish Shop has transformed into a dreamy emporium of ingredients usually reserved for chefs, with HG Walter meat brushing shoulders with Hedone bread, Natoora veg, and Neal’s Yard cheese.
Tough times have brought out sympathy towards the NHS even more than usual. Every penny made from Holborn Dining Room’s special beef cheek and pale ale pies is going to Lewisham and Greenwich Hospital. There’s Phil Howard, Angela Hartnett, Skye Gyngell, and their respective teams pumping out meals everyday to fuel London’s medical workforce. Chef Larry Jayasekara and company have dished up a herculean 91,500 meals for NHS staff since the pandemic began.
Things have looked like this for the past ten weeks. Even in another ten, twenty, or thirty, some of the adaptations we’ve seen will stick – with more shoppers wanting to support local growers and producers for example, you might want to get used to buying dried pasta from the butchers, or sourdough loaves from your local pizzeria.
The future’s looking a bit clearer for hospitality than it was ten weeks ago. Though among the last of businesses, pubs, bars, and restaurants are now thinking about how they’ll re-open. As they hold their breath on whether official guidelines will stipulate one metre of physical distancing (impractical) or two (less so) limited room will make booking ahead mandatory. Even your local pub may need you to phone in advance.
COVID’s thoroughly rocked the boat on this one. Some venues may never reopen, but many others will, and earlier than expected. Britain may well be in line for pub garden pints and al fresco lunches before the summer ends.