Is picking up a takeout an act of civic duty?

What local decisions can farmers make that would help preserve the social fabric of their communities?

The other night I picked up a big takeout order at our favourite Indian restaurant in Winnipeg.

I phoned in the order and picked it up at the entrance, where it was safely and distantly transferred into my hands. When I got it home I got everything out of the containers, garbaged all the packaging, and washed my hands thoroughly with soap.

And we had a fantastic meal. It’s a restaurant we love and it’s usually packed to the gills on a Friday night, with about 150 people in there. It’s normally hard to get a seat. But this night the dining room was empty and the only movement was from the owner and a couple of his staff who were arranging other pickup and delivery orders. It was ghostly.

That’s true of most of our society’s restaurants now. What’s normally a teeming hub of community activity is empty.

We ordered this food partly because we missed having something – anything – I didn’t cook (I’m our family’s cook). We also ordered it to support the restaurant, which is owned by a friend whose family has operated the company for multiple generations. They haven’t laid off their staff but aren’t sure how much takeout orders, distancely provided, can replace their usual dining room revenue. With any luck they’ll stay alive and be there for us to return to after this COVID-19 nightmare is over. If enough people order meals, maybe this business will survive and continue to spin off taxes and employ people, which is what businesses do.

Out in your rural communities I’m sure almost every restaurant is the same. It’s a vital community hub, usually bustling, but the coronavirus has killed its main business and it faces a bleak future. Do you ever visit your local restaurants? Maybe it’d be a good time to order a meal for takeout if they’re doing that. It might help keep them in business and a part of the community.

Some of the most interesting phenomena of the present crisis involve food. When people are confined to their houses, what do they do? A lot of baking, apparently. Everywhere, bread flour is hard to find. At my local grocery stores the shelves are empty. Yeast is rare as diamonds, and traded like cocaine. People are getting worried about meat, with slaughter plants closing in many places because of the virus. Potato demand has collapsed as “Do you want fries with that” has stopped being a question faced by millions of consumers confined to their homes.

Grocery delivery services are popular and experiencing huge backlogs as consumers avoid grocery stores and pay somebody else to face the virus risks for them. Food is hot, and fraught with worry about availability.

Restaurants are part of that food situation. Many North Americans eat almost half their daily caloric intake at and from restaurants. What will our restaurant sector look like on the other side of this crisis? That’s impossible to know, with severe impacts being felt today and an indefinite return-to-normal in the future. It’d be a tragedy to see most die.

That’s where you might be able to help, like my family has done with our once-weekly takeout food orders from a number of places. Rural communities are fragile. They don’t have too many institutions they can afford to lose. Could you help by occasionally ordering a meal for pickup? Most farm families get to town at least every week or two. Perhaps the next visit for something practical could offer a chance to pick up something from one of the restaurants.

Yesterday was “National Takeout Day.” It was an attempt to get some of the food-spending that Canadians have taken away from our shuttered restaurants. The idea is that every Wednesday Canadians could order from their favourite restaurants and help keep them alive. It’s a worthy idea, even if some have criticized the concept. (The criticism makes no sense to me. I don’t get the problem.) From what I saw at my friend’s restaurant, it’d certainly help. And in terms of taking stress off the family, if various family members are getting a little tired of endless servings of Dad’s or Mom’s foods, an occasional takeout is hardly a burden.

Of course, health has to be first in mind, and one should ensure that the restaurant they’re ordering from is taking precautions against spreading COVID-19. But all the restaurants I know understand a lot more about that than most of us.

So this long and rambling post has essentially one idea I’d like you to think about. Consider how your food buck and how you spend it affects the people in your community. It might be a buck that could save some people..

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