Good riddance to 2020 and the untold damage it did to the food industry

A young waiter in a protective mask on his face and gloves holding plates with salad in the restaura

Outside dining, staff wearing masks and more takeaways are just three ways the food industry changed in 2020 - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

So, New Year’s Eve is upon us, and for once it will pass without the noisy, expensive and enforced jollity of a long night out on the town. I can’t say I’m sorry about this, because I realised many years ago that what I really wanted to do on the last night of the year was sit down to dinner with some of my closest friends, in one of our homes.

Of course, I won’t be doing that either this evening; it will be a quieter affair at home, with just the members of my household. My mother-in-law, who on account of living alone is part of our ‘support bubble’ is cooking dinner as an unnecessary but nevertheless welcome thank you for ensuring she has not been isolated during this difficult year.

Like many, she realises that one of the best ways of showing love is to feed your nearest and dearest. It will be a New Year’s Eve when there will be few tears shed as we say goodbye to 2020; we will all look forward to 2021 with hope.
My first column of this year, written on New Year’s Day and published on January 3, in the innocent days when we all thought that 2020 would be a normal year, extolled the tremendous value to be found at the county’s independent restaurants.

Writing about food, I am often – wrongly – accused of only enjoying top-end fine dining, and feasting on the kind of meals which are inaccessible to anybody whose income is anywhere near middling. While I do enjoy the occasional blowout, I’m afraid the stipend offered for these fortnightly scribblings does not stretch to regular Michelin-starred banquets; like everybody else, I am on the lookout for good value.
As the year ends, all of the local, independent restaurants I mentioned in that January column are still hanging on in there – but no-one can pretend that 2020 has been kind to them, or the people who work in them.
Furlough, uncertainty, stop-start regulations and a customer base understandably reluctant to expose themselves to a virus which we still haven’t got on top of, have all had a huge impact on our hospitality industry – from top-end fine dining establishments to humble local pubs.

While many of our local food retailers have found demand growing as people rediscover cooking at home, those whose job it is to feed us when we fancy going out have had a lean time. Many have found other ways of doing what they do, from takeaways to collection menus, but in the end it is no substitute for the regular income provided by people coming through the door to eat.

There will be those who will say 'there goes Newman again, bemoaning first-world problems and wanting us to feel sorry for the privileged few who find their favourite restaurant closed’. But those who work in the hospitality sector are far from well-paid, despite the fact that the jobs they do generate millions for the local economy both directly and indirectly (food tourism is big business, and in normal times this county benefits greatly from the cash spent by visitors).

It looks like it will be some months before any semblance of normality returns to our lives, and there will almost certainly be a lag before people feel confident enough to venture out on a regular basis once again. But if we value our local restaurants, pubs and cafes, then as soon as it is safe – and an accelerated vaccination programme means that might be earlier than we first thought – we must resolve to do so.

With an 83 year-old in my support bubble, I have been cautious about going out, but as soon as the vaccine sets us free, I will be out there, reacquainting myself with the joy of eating food that someone else has cooked - and I urge you to as well.
This is not my only food-related New Year’s resolution. With fewer demands on my evenings and weekends this year, I have spent more time in the kitchen, undertaking everything from more elaborate weekday dinners to making gifts for others (my friends received homemade limoncello, Aperol marmalade and biscotti this Christmas; these were gifts that were much more personal than usual, and definitely more appreciated).

So my second resolution for 2021 is to continue to enjoy the stress-relieving activity of cooking, not just in the enforced stay-at-home period at the beginning of the year, but as we are gradually released from Covid captivity and allowed to resume normal life.
This year has been a horrible year, and I suspect most are pleased to see it end. Despite everything, it is a year which has seen a renewed surge in community spirit; it has seen technology finally harnessed as something for our benefit (rather than something to be a slave to); and it has made us appreciate the basics of life such as sharing good food with friends. If we can carry just those simple things into 2021, the suffering won’t have entirely been in vain.

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