Podcast: COVID-19 Dispatches #6

For the sixth episode of our podcast series, produced in collaboration with “Meant to be Eaten” on Heritage Radio Network and dedicated to dispatches from the food world in reaction to the first months of the pandemic (the focus of recently published 20.3 issue), issue editor Bob Valgenti is joined by Ashley Rose Young (author of “A COVID-19 Relief Kitchen Created by an Unexpected Advocate”) to discuss the importance of giving voice to and documenting often unseen and unheard – but indispensable – employees in the retail sector and hospitality industry, such as restaurant servers and grocery store employees, many of whom either lost jobs or had no choice but to risk their own health by continuing to work through the pandemic.

For 30% off single print-issues of “Food in the Time of COVID-19”, use promo code GASTROAUG2020 at checkout.

Web Exclusives #5: “The Day that We Closed Our English Public House”

*For our recently published special issue, “Food in the Time of COVID-19”, we received more submissions than we could accommodate in the print version of the issue, so the following article forms part of a series of submissions which will be published as Web Exclusives which speak to the theme of Gastronomica 20.3.

By Carina Mansey

March 21, 2020: Bedfordshire, England 

It was a Saturday morning, and, as per the usual, I was on route to the pub. After a sobering walk through the sleepy English market town, I reached the pub and entered via the backdoor. “Hello, team!” I said, waving frantically. My greeting was reciprocated and I took a seat. While Paul was attempting to make me a cuppa, I considered the abnormality of the situation.1 The last time front and back of house congregated like this was for the Christmas party, which had, due to the nature of our work, taken place in February. However, today found us in a very different situation. When we were settled, our manager addressed us, and then we began the deep clean.

While polishing table 3, I looked up at my coworkers. “What is Roger going to do for breakfast?” I asked. Something akin to “He will have to learn to cook” was Paul’s response. “I feel sad for him,” I mumbled. Roger came here every morning, other than on Christmas Day—the only day, up until now, that we closed. While scrubbing the remnants of something that I hoped was ketchup off table 9, I noticed Roger staring through our glass doors. My heart sunk as he read the notices tacked to them. Roger would not find anywhere offering a cooked breakfast because the Prime Minister had closed pubs and restaurants yesterday evening. I then thought of all our regular customers. They were not just my livelihood, they were people, and people I was going to miss. 

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Web Exclusives #4: “It Wasn’t Tokyo, But It Would Do”

*For our recently published special issue, “Food in the Time of COVID-19”, we received more submissions than we could accommodate in the print version of the issue, so the following article forms part of a series of submissions which will be published as Web Exclusives which speak to the theme of Gastronomica 20.3.

By Dana Jennings

March 31, 2020: San Francisco, CA

Last year, we ate the freshest sashimi in Tokyo.

This year, we argued over how long we should scorch the pizza box.

We’re not food snobs. OK, he’s not a food snob. I get a little snobby, but only if it’s on one of three special occasions when we allow ourselves to have an “elevated dining experience.” He hates when I say elevated. Maybe I am a food snob.

Our anniversary has always been a time to splurge, a day to do something memorable and outside our comfort zone. For me, it usually involves food.

Twelve months ago, it meant crossing my dream foodie vacation off our bucket list. During COVID-19, it meant ordering take-out.

I dug through my box of sculpting supplies for a wrinkled pair of plastic gloves I’d normally use while molding toxic clay. Now, I’d use them to swipe my credit card.

I raised the box of gloves in an offering to my partner who shook his head. He opted for stretching the sleeves of his waffle-print thermal down over his fingers as he turned the metal knob of our outermost apartment door. We pulled our masks over our heads and down our faces. A familiar uniform, we actually felt lucky to have respirators left over from last year’s wildfires.

Lucky, for two devastating events within a year. An earthquake would really complete the trifecta, we joked darkly.

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Web Exclusive #3: “Independent Grocers, Vulnerable Residents, and Community Coalitions: We’re All Essential!”

*For our recently published special issue, “Food in the Time of COVID-19”, we received more submissions than we could accommodate in the print version of the issue, so the following article forms part of a series of submissions which will be published as Web Exclusives which speak to the theme of Gastronomica 20.3.

By Alex B. Hill

May 15, 2020: Detroit, Michigan

FIGURE 1. Detroit grocery landscape during COVID-19.
COURTESY OF ALEX B. HILL, DETROIT FOOD MAP INITIATIVE

Food is a human right. Food is a privilege. Many Detroiters lack both.

Sitting with community members in the sweltering and sticky basement of an Eastside church in the summer of 2012 to discuss community-grocer relations, I never would have expected our conversations would set us up to lead the city government’s comprehensive response to local food retailers during the coronavirus pandemic.

In early March 2020, the food council executive director asked how we, a local grocery workgroup, could, “help grocery stores and other critical businesses to operate more safely at this time.” Our small band of non-profit, university, and local government members convened by the local food council had now become a critical connection to the local grocers. We pivoted quickly from our regular discussions on store assessments to how and where we could find masks, gloves, and informational signage to help stores better serve their customers and protect their staff.

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Web Exclusive #2: “Finding Comfort in Food Amidst COVID-19”

*For our recently published special issue, “Food in the Time of COVID-19”, we received more submissions than we could accommodate in the print version of the issue, so the following article forms part of a series of submissions which will be published as Web Exclusives which speak to the theme of Gastronomica 20.3.

By May Ting Beh

April 23, 2020: Penang, Malaysia

Amidst the tragedy of the COVID-19 pandemic, Malaysians are finding comfort in food. As I write this, Malaysia has entered its sixth week of social isolation, officially known as the Movement Control Order (MCO), which is an effort to curb the spreading of the COVID-19 pandemic. The MCO is a partial lockdown; only essential services such as health care, food, and the armed forces are still operational. People are only allowed to leave their houses, alone, for grocery runs within a ten kilometer radius from their addresses. Flouting the MCO is a punishable offense. In the Prime Minister’s speech on March 18, 2020 regarding the MCO, he advised Malaysians to only go out to buy food and other necessities only once or twice a week, or if possible, not to go out at all and rely on food deliveries (Prime Minister’s Office of Malaysia Official Website, 2020). This makes it important to plan one’s grocery list carefully when stocking up on food supplies. While there is no official policy on eating less food or using less ingredients, there has been an implicit expectation to only buy essential (food) needs, as Malaysians were told not to panic-buy. Pictures of people panic-buying and hoarding surfaced on social media at the beginning of the MCO and they were heavily criticized by viewers. In addition, standard operating procedures have been put in place for shoppers doing their grocery runs. Only a limited number of shoppers are allowed at any one time in the market or shops and they are only given a short period of time to gather their goods. Even with the latter condition, long queues are sighted every day at these places, which should discourage people from heading to the markets without the absolute need to replenish their food supplies. Due to these restrictions, it is expected that everyone will be more conscientious about the amount of food or ingredients they use to prepare their daily meals.

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