Eat-out-to-help-out, anime food & dining as a protest in prisons
Nice Pear: a weekly(ish) feminist foodletter | Issue #007 | 30 August 2020
If you’re new to this newsletter, you can read my mission & ethos here & then forward it to all of your pals.
This weeks’ edition of Nice Pear is coming to you a little tad bit behind schedule - I’m calling it the ~bank holiday edition~.
Goodbye, eat-out-to-help-out 👋
The UK’s still-hilariously-named eat-out-to-help-out scheme is set to end tomorrow.
The scheme has given the hospitality sector - one of the worst-hit by the Coronavirus and initial lockdown - a much-needed boost.
The impact of Coronavirus & lockdown on Hospitality
So far, the impact on the hospitality sector, as with other industries like live entertainment and non-essential retail, has been two-fold:
First, even with the reopening of indoor eating at restaurants on 4th July, many of us still don’t feel entirely safe to do so. A lot of people are still shielding at home due to pre-existing conditions which make them more vulnerable to the virus and its effects than others, but even without that added worry going out into public spaces still makes me very anxious.
The loosening of restrictions seems to have made precautions like social-distancing, mask-wearing and hand-washing no-longer a priority for some. Which makes those of us who are still fearful of Coronavirus all the more anxious and are careful - and all the less likely to attend non-essential environments like restaurants, bars, theatres, music venues, and high-street shops.
Besides the question of whether people feel safe to eat out, many have faced job losses and other cuts to household income. Cash which might previously have been allocated to ‘luxuries’ like dining out, theatre or gig tickets and shopping for clothes, jewellery or home decor is now diverted into living expenses like utilities, housing and groceries.
Even for those of us who haven’t seen a big fluctuation in income, the crisis has been a wake up call to put any ‘spare’ cash into savings, ready for the next disaster.
Takeout and delivery were still possible with the country on lockdown in March, April and May, but - unlike with performances that can be streamed anywhere in the world, and ambient goods that can be shipped across the UK - food and drink can only be delivered and collected in a hyperlocal area.
Additionally, it is near-impossible to sell the same capacity with takeout-only as you do with dine-in, with costs and overheads remaining much the same.
So, the hospitality sector in the UK was in crisis. Enter: Rishi Sunak and the eat-out-to-help-out scheme, which incentivised diners to support restaurants with 50% off food & drink - reimbursed to restaurants by the government - every Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday throughout August.
Which makes tomorrow, Monday 31st, the final day of the scheme.
Benefits of the scheme can be seen in both anecdotal evidence (my husband’s business, and others like his, have been booked out on previously quiet Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday evenings); and analytical evidence (The Guardian’s analysis showed economic lifting in August, fuelled by the scheme).
What next for indie bars, cafes and restaurants?
Despite schools reopening, and the upcoming end of furlough support, we are still very much in the midst of a global pandemic. Here in the UK, cases are on the rise and 48 people died from the virus last week alone.
YouGov polling indicates that people plan to curb their dining out once the scheme ends - with little cash to spare, and no deals available, why would they put themselves at risk to eat out?
Some restaurants have pledged to continue offering half-priced food on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Without reimbursal from the scheme though, that may be impossible for smaller businesses in an industry with already-tight margins.
Eat-out-to-help-out has undoubtedly done a huge amount of good for the UK’s Hospitality sector (and, by extension, the economy). But is it enough to keep our independent food scene alive?
I think that the scheme may have been poorly-named: it isn’t immediately obvious who was helped out. The scheme set out to boost hospitality businesses and the economy - giving us a way to cheaply enjoy a night out was a happy byproduct.
Restaurants shouldn’t have to feel pressured to continue offering such a steep discount and to eat the cost themselves. I hope that we will continue to support independent restaurants - even without Rishi footing half the bill.
As an aside: I also really hope that, when it is safe to do so, a similar scheme is put in place to help other sectors classed as non-essential that, like hospitality, have suffered: the arts, live events, theatre, gigs and concerts, conferences, etc.
Things to read this week
I spotted this tweet a few weeks ago and haven’t stopped thinking about it since: “I wonder if I will ever enjoy anything as much as characters in Studio Ghibli films enjoy making breakfast”.
Luckily (for me, I guess?) SeriousEats just published this delightful read about how delicious food looks in Anime and especially in Ghibli/Miyazaki films: “The medium takes the most attractive and appetizing aspects of food and enhances them”. If you were wondering, my favourite is Howl’s Moving Castle (it’s one of my all-time favourite films, honestly).
I cried reading this article about prisoners in Michigan coming together to prepare a group meal in honour of the memory of George Floyd: “We are not allowed to protest. However, ‘food’ has a way of bringing about three words, ‘Love, Peace, and Happiness'”. The meal itself was organised based on needs, made from the meagre ingredients they were able to rustle up from the commissary, made all the starker in the context of the US’ prison industrial complex. The man who organised the meal, Michael Thompson, was 25 years into a 40-year sentence for selling marijuana - a substance which has since been legalised in the state where he is still incarcerated.
This is a story from earlier this year (pre-pandemic, if you can recall such a time), but I understand that the Sikh groups in the article are also providing support and relief during California’s current wave of bushfires.
IKEA has released ‘plant-balls’ which confused me because I have definitely eaten veggie balls mid-furniture-shop before. Turns out they are a faux-meat product (as opposed to the openly vegetable-based balls IKEA already sold). I hope they keep the vegetable ones too. As a lifelong vegetarian, faux-meat products kinda gross me out, but I do understand the appeal for new vegetarians/vegans and their place in persuading staunch meat-eaters that they can enjoy plant-based food.
In food media: Condé Nast has announced a new EiC for its food titles, Bon Appétit and Epicurious: Publisher Dawn Davis, who is a Black woman. For more on the BA story I have a quick rundown in issue #005 of Nice Pear.
Things to eat this week
We are finally heading towards autumn and I am HERE for it. Hot soup, woolly jumpers and pumpkin-spiced everything? Autumn brings out my basic-bitch energy and I don’t even care. Make:
Wholefully’s vegan pumpkin-spiced latte (NB: pumpkin-pie-spice is basically mixed-spice if you’re in the UK)
A really simple blackberry & apple jam with that early hedgerow fruit
All the stews, soups, pies and curries
Where to find me this week
I was also featured in this roundup of vegan bloggers, talking about why I take an iron supplement daily.
Say email@example.com with stories, commissions & foodie chit chat