All over the world, and particularly in France, the manner in which we are handling the pandemic is plagued by inconsistencies. It is not just because management methods are very different from one country to another, but also because of the practices vary within each country: how do we justify the closure of theatres and cinemas while the metro and trains are running? How can it be explained that universities are closed when preparatory classes and schools remain open? How can we accept that shops are closed at the time when most people are getting out of work and can do their shopping? How can we understand that we cannot (without requiring that changing rooms are opened) practice sports in which players are far away from each other, such as tennis, ping pong, or so many other outdoor sports? One day all this will have to be explained.
There is a bigger inconsistency that affects restaurants: how can we explain the fact that restaurants are not allowed to open when it is allowed to eat at your seat on a train? How can it be accepted that restaurants are not allowed to welcome their customers at least outside on the sidewalks or on their terraces, with all the necessary heating accessory (whose impact on global warming is certain but derisory)? At the table, a distance equal to that required in offices would be imposed, and masks would have to be worn outside eating times; and in the kitchen, the same sanitary rules as those that must be practiced today in canteens and restaurants offering take-away sales would apply. With a little practice, all this should work.
It is probably too late to go back on this, at least for the moment. But if, unfortunately, this pandemic were to last, or return, or take hold, it is high time to consider such measures, at least for the spring and summer period. Even if the powers that be are all, in fact, delighted with such a situation:
Restaurants are not just a place to eat. They are, together with family meals at home, the main places of conversation and transmission. But the powers in place in every society do not like it when people engage in conversation while they eat: they exchange information there; they discuss political topics there; they organise coalitions there; all this is beyond the control of the powers in place, who know nothing of what is said there; it is very dangerous for them. Moreover, sharing a meal together with others takes time; time from work, time from consuming things other than food; the meal is therefore an enemy of the economy; the meal is anti-capitalist. The meal has even become, because of this notion, a brief and solitary moment of consumption of industrial products, an enemy of man: it cannot be repeated enough that food kills much more than the worst of pandemics. Furthermore, the powers in place do not like it when we pass on knowledge from one generation to the next; they prefer to pass it on themselves. In particular, they do not like the transmission of unique and endemic family recipes.
So our societies have for a long time (at least a century and a half) done everything possible to kill meals; so that we eat elsewhere than at the table, and especially not together; so that we eat alone, in front of a computer or in a corner of the workshop. So that we swallow industrial products, with an artificial flavour that discourages us from devoting time to them. The food has thus become universally uniform, supporting the illusion of virtual journeys in foods that will have no more exotic component other than their name. And by locking up the elders in assisted living centers, the transmission of ancient recipes has become even more difficult.
If we are not careful, the pandemic could accelerate this development, which France, Italy, and a few other countries have resisted the most; it could justify the curfew by the possibility of doing one’s shopping at the time of the meal that has disappeared; and by the growth in productivity made possible by eating at home in front of one’s computer in one’s office/living/dining room; and sometimes also in one’s bedroom.
We must fight at all costs against these deleterious and deadly trends; it is particularly up to restaurant owners, farmers, and the entire food industry to prepare as quickly as possible for salutary changes: eliminate artificial sugars everywhere, ban pesticides, and move as quickly as possible toward organic food in canteens and restaurants. Give meals their festive and subversive function back. Teach all this knowledge to health professionals. Allow the elders to pass on their recipes, immense treasures in danger of disappearing.
To restore the meal as quickly as possible, in its splendour, not only to eat good and healthy foods, but also to converse freely and joyfully; to build the economy and life and to transmit, preciously, what is essential to each of our civilizations.