We have a hard time envisioning the post-pandemic world, and here’s why

Our narratives of progress are limited to tech innovation and economic growth

At any point during the week in the pre-coronavirus time, a person could stop by Fort Defiance restaurant in Red Hook, have an excellent cocktail, enjoy friendly atmosphere, and find reprieve after being snottily told by Red Hook Tavern that the wait is 1.5 hour, no matter when they showed up.

These days, Fort Defiance sells groceries. On their site, one can find butter, parsley, chicken drumsticks, raw honey, or bottled Negroni. There are also gift certificates. Across the Atlantic, UK milkmen are going through demand renaissance, although less of a farm-to-table and more of a shelter-in-place variety. Leon’s chain of restaurants pivoted to selling pre-packaged meals available for pick up and delivery.

In New York, premium food wholesalers like Chef’s Warehouse, F. Rozzo and Sons or Happy Valley Meat Co., now sell their goods directly to consumers. Their specialty items once went to the likes of Gramercy Tavern and Eleven Madison. Today, Eleven Madison is a communal kitchen, and a person doesn’t need to endure Frenchette’s alarmingly bad acoustics in order to enjoy their food; they can have the same meat and produce in the quiet hum of our own home. At-home cooks are the winners here: they get access to luxury meat boxes and other goods at wholesale prices. They have nothing but time on their hands, and abundant inspiration and resources, with everyone from Michelin-star chefs like Massimo Bottura streaming cooking lessons to cookware and food brands posting recipes at every opportunity.

Arguably, ghost kitchens got there first. According to the National Restaurant Association, a sixty percent of restaurant meals are now consumed off-premises. That was before the crisis, when being a homebody was still a generational thing and a lifestyle choice.

The current pivot to direct is different. As sometimes is the case with innovations, this one is born out of necessity. Industries were caught unawares before (analog photography, retail, newspapers) by “creative destruction” of technology. But innovation-by-necessity has little to do with any new technology. This is perhaps why we find it so confusing and its consequences so hard to grasp.

Read the rest of this analysis over at my newsletter, The Sociology of Business, and subscribe here.

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