Now more than ever, home is where many of us are seeking refuge and solace in light of the novel coronavirus. This is a tough time, but we’re here for you—whether it’s a new pantry recipe or a useful tip for your kitchen, here are some ideas to make things run a little more smoothly for you and your loved ones.
I’m an engineer by day, curious cook and blogger by night. I started my culinary journey over a decade ago by asking chefs on Twitter how to make something they posted, and was surprised to actually receive answers. There was one specific event when I knew that anything was possible using social media: Chef Jose Andres not only saw my tweet, but invited me to chat through my questions in person.
Andres’ generosity with information, with me, and his display of humanity on what is so often a dehumanizing platform, showed me that social media could be used for good. I’ve since been inspired to connect like-minded chefs, cooks, artisans and makers from all over the world as they dive into the wild world of koji-fueled experiments (soy sauces, misos, sakes, rice vinegars, and mirins). Through social media is also how I met my now-good friend and co-author Jeremy Umansky.
But as of late, I've felt overwhelmed and disconnected from my online community. Because of social media, COVID-19 has been deemed the first “infodemic” by the World Health Organization. There’s been “an overabundance of information—some accurate and some not—that makes it hard for people to find trustworthy sources and reliable guidance when they need it.”
This declaration has been, for me, heartbreaking. Over the past decade, social media has not only been instrumental in my own creative and intellectual pursuits; it's provided me with a key source of community, as well. But as of late, amid the panic, frustration, and anxiety, it’s been tough to stay connected, to feel heard, or to even show that I’m listening (maybe you feel this way too).
The same chefs, cooks, artisans, and makers who were connected through social media are now realizing their mission—gathering people around food—is no longer feasible. Now we’re left wondering how to support each other, now that our common ground, our table, is gone. Is there a way we, confined to our homes, can use our virtual platforms for effecting real, social change? Could social media be the key for offering support to those in the hospitality industry?
I still believe so. We just have to reframe our relationship to the platform. Here's how, in a time of social distancing, we can use social media to support the hospitality industry:
1. Use your voice.
Social media grants visibility (sometimes, too much) to our individual and collective experiences. My Instagram @ourcookquest reveals little about my personal life, instead focusing on the various experiments I have bubbling around the house, because the aim is to learn more about food, and to do it together—not to glorify me or what I’m wearing that day.
Now, in the time of COVID-19, of very real need and very real confusion, I’d encourage restaurateurs to do the same: to be open and express exactly what they need, and how we, as patrons, can help. How many takeaway meals do you need to sell today? Do you need volunteers to deliver? Communicate the challenges you face, and the things you wish you could have help with, as transparency in these tough times will help us tackle (already challenging) issues faster.
This is all to say, as much as we are able and willing to enact change on the ground level, we need the government’s support. The restaurant industry represents close to five percent of our GDP, “employing more than nine percent of the total private sector workforce in about 615,000 restaurant establishments around the country,” according to the Restaurant Opportunities Center United. In a letter sent last week to the Administration and Congress estimates “sales to decline by $225 billion during the next three months, which will prompt the loss of between five and seven million jobs.”
Whether you’ve got an emotional tie to your local small-batch coffee roaster, or you’re a restaurateur yourself or you’re neither, we all will be affected if restaurants, big and small, go down. Economists are predicting at the very least, a recession as dire as the Great Depression.
2. Create centers to unify support.
Hashtags on social media act as an expression of a community-facing question or concept, and are a way to centralize an initiative. One extremely important one is for the restaurant industry is #toosmalltofail, which is a unified call by small businesses for government relief. You can read exactly what they’re petitioning at the Independent Restaurant Coalition’s website.
I recently started #threethingstohelp as an effort to inspire people to post unique ways to solve the problems facing the service industry. I posed, How can a cook find temporary work that’s not in restaurants? Suggestions of knife sharpening lessons, selling food and pre-bottled cocktails online flooded in. I’m seeing others offer virtual foraging lessons, and assisting with food delivery to the elderly. The spirit of the hashtag is to get people brainstorming outside their comfort zone.
To organize the efforts inspired by social media, I’d encourage people to develop their own local hashtags and eventually, mutual aid programs—hubs where services or products can be traded or volunteered. I first heard about this support system from a friend Erica Carson, who is providing contactless food delivery to those in need around her.
3. Be together, even when we can’t.
At this time, the kindest and most compassionate thing we can do for each other is remain, physically, at a distance. Social media is a way we can continue to offer each support despite this.
While I’m mostly hoping you’re spending as much time off-screen as possible, be a present, active scroller when you are online. When you see a post from a small business or restaurant that you love, instead of scrolling past mindlessly, is there a way you can show support—or even just that you’re listening? If not, is there someone you can share it with, that might have the resources or motivation to?
Supporting others in need—especially when things feel so overwhelming in your immediate surroundings—is not easy. But your effort will inspire others to step outside of their personal fear and anxiety, and fill in the gaps. At this moment, there isn’t a unified effort to solve the impact of COVID-19 on the hospitality industry, but social media can galvanize citizen action on behalf of restaurants.
- Martha Stoumen is donating 50 percent of the proceeds of this Zinfandel to RWCF. Find more small businesses’ campaigns (like Food52 alum Marian Bull’s ceramic sale!) in RWCF’s Instagram stories.
- Iffy about donating to a restaurant group’s GoFundMe? Consider donating to a nationwide relief fund instead, such as ROC or RWCF.
- The easiest way to get in touch with your local legislator is to call the U.S. Capitol Switchboard at 202-224-3121, or find your local U.S. senators’ contact information here.