#21 | Indoors, Outdoors
A cursed mission statement, the food delivery economy, and that old "plants or money" chestnut
Hello. Thanks for being here.
This is the twenty-first edition of In Digestion, a weekly survey of the best food media on the web, and why you should care about it. If you like this newsletter, please follow @in_digestion and @jameskhansen on Twitter, and forward it to a large number of people. Maybe three friends and a nemesis? It should feel like too many. It won’t be enough. Thank you.
With dining in the U.K. closed until Spring, probably, it’s been instructive to see the reactions as U.S. cities make gestures towards bringing it back. Andrew Cuomo’s heartfelt love letter to restaurant workers in which they reopen indoor dining on Valentines Day is a particularly touching piece of sacrificial PR. Not now, Andrew!
Which brings things to a piece that did not come out this week but deserves some more shine: Simon Henriques’ short, imagined monologue entitled, I AM THE DESIGNER OF THIS RESTAURANT’S OUTDOOR SEATING SPACE, AND THIS IS MY ARTIST’S STATEMENT, for McSweeney’s. It’s already had its Moment Online; you’ve probably read it, but where most of the lols focussed on the parody of architect-speak, let’s stick to food, okay. It touches on what people often mean when they say they miss restaurants, “our deep need to have other people bring food to us and then wash the dishes for us afterward.” It slams the absence of funding for restaurants and shows how without, it, many feel the need to build such things. But most interesting is how the monologue centres both the arrogance and the, yes, very satirised, hope in doing something against coronavirus.
The pandemic has irrevocably changed what it means to be a restaurant, and with it how restaurants exist outside their walls — if, that is, they ever had walls to begin with. Jonathan Nunn’s investigation into how London’s dining ecosystem is ever more enmeshed with delivery apps for 1843 sees him biking deliveries around the Isle of Dogs on an icy November day, talking to disillusioned restaurant owners, and asking how the Russian doll economies of Uber Eats, Deliveroo, and Just Eat make money; and for whom. Pair with one American restaurateur’s pessimistic view: that the meaning of being a restaurant hasn’t just changed; it’s been lost to another time, value distorted by a pricing model that doesn’t really add up — except for the apps.
“We’ve addressed rising sea levels, changing climate, how to cope with a gradually warming world, even coral rehabilitation, but masks were our undoing.” Kamala Thiagarajan’s long read on a radio station for fisherfolk on India’s Pamban island for Hakai unspools into a story about responsibility, education, and solidarity, told through fish migrations and changing tides. Then comes COVID-19; a new wave crashing on to the community’s shore.
When Delancey wheeled the pink elephant out, it was over. Since the fateful night that England knocked Colombia out of the 2018 World Cup on penalties, Elephant and Castle Centre — the south London socioculinary hub for the city’s Latinx community — has been condemned; since 24 September 2020, it has been closed. In a new podcast, The Elephants in the Room, school friends and hosts Amana and Mawunyo put the loss of community and space in the context of historic gentrification in SE1, SE11, and SE17 from having lived through it.
This week, Beyond Meat has announced a multimillion dollar tie-up with Pepsi to produce snacks and drinks that are unlikely to displace intensive meat farming in the way its burgers might; Oatly has finally said the quiet part loud: its investment by Blackstone does not mean it feels accountable for what else the returns fund. For Charlie Mitchell in the Baffler — and for me, right here — this is just the logical continuation of a fundamental truth: “Alt-meat speculators want to save the world—or get rich trying.” Spitting fire against the environmental ravages of beef production doesn’t always correlate to challenging the systems that made the ravaging so damn efficient; history repeats itself endlessly for those who are unwilling to learn from the pasture.
A meditation on Bernie Sanders, Guy Fieri, and who misunderstanding popular food figures really serves will be the nineteenth paid post on In Digestion, going out 01 February 2021. Thank you again for being here.
That’s all for this week — oh, and please forward this to those three friends and one nemesis. Or just, like, everyone.