Eating outdoors, public space and inequality in pandemic

As information about the means of contagion of Covid 19 emerged, we were clear that one of the main ways to avoid contagion is the use of face masks and the congregation of people in ventilated places, preferably outdoors, it reduced the risk of contagion.

As the economic revival became necessary, steps were taken at catering venues in some of the world’s major cities. Thus, some municipal governments in the United States allowed restaurants to occupy benches abroad to receive diners. Undoubtedly a necessary measure not only in the face of the health emergency, but also in the face of the crisis in an industry that provides thousands of jobs.

As vaccines arrived, indoor use in the United States was allowing people to check their vaccination. In France, the measure of checking the vaccination to access closed places was one of the first to be implemented, not being without controversy due to the protests of the anti-vaccines. And in the United States, although the controversy was not due to vaccines, the adoption of places that belong to the so-called “public space” for restoration uses, highlighted one of the greatest evils of our system: the great social inequalities . Suddenly, people who were willing to pay hundreds of dollars for a tasting dinner at a restaurant found themselves dining on the sidewalk with the homeless living right next to them, some trying to ask diners for help.

In a public space that is supposedly for everyone, the inequalities between those who do not have a home to sleep and those who pay for gastronomic experiences converge in a contrasting way. In public space, these contrasts sometimes become invisible by dint of being normalized. Not that either group had less right to be making use of the space. Consequently, many restaurant owners decided to do a social endeavor to feed those homeless people who continually wandered around diner tables. A good deed to be sure, but this is not at all a means of making the homeless invisible or preventing them from being around people who ate a multi-course dinner. In the end, several of these chefs made a call to raise awareness about the true effects of the pandemic crisis: many people have been left without access to food from the basic basket, while some Americans in the workforce are giving up their jobs for refusing to return to work outside the home.

Although these actions can offer help in the short term, the environmental crisis and the pandemic have left a more severe food emergency than the effects will be seen in the coming years. The way to face these challenges is not by helping so that they “do not get in the way”, but by focusing efforts on making systemic strategies that help combat food insecurity, which today, people all over the world suffer, even in some of the “First world countries”. In an example of the use of public space, we can see how these crises of inequality become evident, even in an act so daily for many and so unsafe for others, such as being able to put food in one’s mouth. .

Liliana Martínez Lomelí

Food and society columnist


Food and society columnist. Gastronaut, observant and foodie. She is a researcher in the sociology of food, and a nutritionist. She is president and founder of Funalid: Foundation for Food and Development.

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