Our relationship with food is multi layered and complex. At its core, food is sustenance but it’s also a reflection of who we are, an expression of our cultural ties and a source of entertainment, inspiration, fashion, and fodder for many of our conversations. Somehow, we just can’t get enough of talking about food.
Amidst a lingering pandemic, food has also taken on different overtones. Once we were forced to be at home during protracted lockdowns, consumers started experimenting with food in their homes. The pandemic also made us appreciate even more all those restaurant meals we regularly enjoyed but now were suddenly missing.
Interestingly, COVID even forced restaurant owners and chefs to change their relationship with food. While in the past many chefs were secretive about their recipes, guarding them with their lives, the pandemic forced leading chefs to suddenly become less competitive about sharing their recipes, discussing their ingredients and teaching their customers how to prepare restaurant-style meals in the comfort of their own homes. It was a huge departure no one could have ever predicted, but one motivated by a need to pivot to new revenue streams in light of a pandemic that almost obliterated the industry overnight. And, it was welcome relief for consumers who were still able to partake in their favourite restaurant meals in the comfort of their own homes.
Now, as we slowly move forward into what we hope is a post-pandemic world, returning with greater regularity to restaurants, the conversation about food has shifted to higher menu prices in restaurants and higher food costs in the grocery stores — not to mention supply-chain challenges and inflation rates.
But while many of us struggle with higher prices, let’s not also forget that food insecurity is a bigger challenge than ever, with one in five Canadians (seven million people) reporting going hungry at least once between March 2020 and March 2022, according to Food Banks Canada.
Clearly, operators can no longer afford not to raise prices, given higher food and fuel costs, a precarious supply chain, and, more importantly, a labour shortage wreaking havoc on an overburdened industry. Understandably, operators need to deal with this reality while juggling the vagaries of the pandemic, just as consumers figure out how to deal with higher food costs in the grocery store and in restaurants. But let’s not lose sight that to truly have meaningful conversations about food, we need to also consider the millions of Canadians who are food insecure and, moving forward, we need to make food security a bigger part of the conversation about food — otherwise, it’s just talk.