Helen Rosner, the New Yorker’s roving food correspondent, is a great writer. And this is a great article: although it’s about New York I think it has resonance here too. It’s called The Uncertain Promises of Indoor Dining in New York City.
This grinding moral calculus leaves us with a fallacious sense of personal responsibility and misplaced blame. In recent months, I’ve seen chefs and restaurateurs lash out on social media at those whom they deem insufficiently supportive of the industry’s return. Those declining to eat in restaurants during the pandemic, they argue, are complicit in the economic suffering of their businesses and employees. (The crisis is unimaginably severe, and the stress is nearly unbearable, but such a position seems rooted more in existential terror than in logic.) There are, of course, ways to be supportive without prioritizing capital over safety: early in the pandemic, when the mass extinction of small businesses was looming, I purchased more logo-emblazoned sweatshirts, coffee mugs, and tote bags than one human ever ought to own, and encouraged everybody I knew to do the same. Still, it is obvious that restaurants will not be saved by T-shirt sales alone. I’ve found a measure of relief in a simple piece of advice passed along by a friend: pick three businesses that matter to you and your community—a manageable number—and then pour everything you can into making sure they come out O.K. on the other side. But, in September, during a Zoom conversation I had with the chef David Chang to promote his new memoir, he put the same idea in more dire terms, invoking philosophy’s infamous trolley problem: “I think ninety per cent of independent restaurants are going to die,” he said. “We need to start to choose which ones we want to prop up.”