Back to basics: how Covid-19 has changed our relationship with food
COVID-19’s appetite for swallowing up businesses has made everyone struggle and those who are escaping virtually unscathed are mainly new-generation food entrepreneurs who are taking advantage of what their predecessors simply did not have.
Many industries have been hard hit by the Covid-19 outbreak and the food and beverage industry is no exception. Restaurants around the globe were forced to temporarily shut down during lockdowns and only a few operations have re-emerged without suffering too much damage. Unfortunately, many have shut their doors for good.
Running a business the same way as in pre-Covid days is no longer plausible, experts and industry people say. The winds of change have blown fiercely and brought about many drastic changes in our lifestyles including cooking, eating in and dining out. Those changes are behind the latest trend in the culinary and food world –sustainability. Though sustainable practice has been around for a while, the coronavirus has pushed everyone to take the concept seriously.
“Following the pandemic, I believe the wellness dining market will continue to blossom. Eating and living with a conscience is going to become a strong part of the ethos of the food industry, and more businesses will take a greener and more sustainable approach to their operations,” notes Dusit International Bangkok’s Global Vice President Jean-Michel Dixte.
Sustainable is fashionable
Dixte is almost certainly correct in his belief. The pandemic will undoubtedly fuel the growth of the healthy dining market and businesses will have no choice but to jump on the bandwagon and adopt greener and more sustainable approaches in this new world.
“Growing local” and “buying local” have become the manta of the coronavirus crisis. When Thailand first went into lockdown, buying and selling fresh produce, ready-to-cook and cooked food appeared more temporary than permanent solutions. So-called “marketplaces” created by various university alumni on Facebook offered an extensive range of products and services, with food one of most popular categories.
Those concepts are expected to gain momentum now that people have grown to like the connections to what they consume.
“People have also woken up to the fact that any green effort to save the planet ultimately equates with an effort to save ourselves. They have realised that if we are to live better quality lives for longer, we must treat ourselves and our environment better,” Dixte says.
What industry observers foresee is a growing number of ethical consumers as well as food business operators. Michelin-starred Bo.lan is committed to creating a zero carbon footprint restaurant in Bangkok. The founders, Duangporn ‘Bo’ Songvisava and Dylan Jones, believe that activities related to the consumption and cooking of food greatly impact our environment. Their policies include using glass bottles for their own filtered water and banning single-use plastic bottles from their premises. Bo.lan also has its own environment manager – perhaps the only Thai restaurant to have created such a position.
Waste not, want not
The green “revolution” isn’t being felt just in Bangkok. About 260 km from the capital, in the Northern province Phetchabun, well-known Thai-Isaan restaurant “Kularb Dok Mai: New Kai Yang Bua Tong” urges customers to think twice before ordering more food than they can eat.
A sign reading “Money is yours but resources belong to society” is displayed just near one of the restaurant’s entrances. The same sign has Thai words that says “(please) order only enough food. Many people suffer from a lack of food and we should not waste resources,”
Pongsak Kandoen, co-owner of the famous barbecue restaurant on Saraburi-Lomsak road, saw a lot of left-over food both in his restaurant and others and says he wanted to convince people to stop and think before ordering blindly. His eatery is popular with holiday-makers who come in large groups and he couldn’t help but notice that most ordered far too many dishes.
“When customers arrive, we understand they are hungry and tend to order a lot. We’ve trained our waiting staff to suggest that they only order a few dishes to start with and then order more if these are not enough to satisfy their appetites,” he says.
An avid traveller, the restaurateur says he feels a strong connection with Mother Nature and is doing his bit to “save the Earth”. The restaurant is trying to reduce plastic, with Pongsak replacing containers with banana leaves to serve his sticky rice. He also grows his own vegetables. “It literally is farm to table,”