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After handing over my paycheck to the grocery store on Monday night, it was clear how much my family’s life revolves around food.
Buying it, preparing it, eating it.
During a conversation with friends, we were talking about vacations — remember what those were? — and I joked that it didn’t really matter where you went because the day just moves along from one meal to the next.
With family and friends largely on hold for Christmas and New Year’s Eve, we’re left with the foundation of food.
Living in Portland and growing up in an agricultural area as a kid, I know that food is much more than sustenance. It’s a driver of the economy and a job creator, and the places that bring us food are more than just bricks and mortar and grassy fields and dairy barns.
Restaurants and bars are gathering spots that bring us together as a community, where we interact with friends and strangers. The best places are filled with energy and life.
In many communities, where housing is cramped, the pub, bar and eatery play an even larger role. They are the living rooms and dining rooms for millions. Like parks and other public spaces, they are the shared areas of our lives that stretch out and make due in places where the average apartment is 700 square feet or less.
And right now those places are struggling.
Our country — and frankly, I’m looking specifically at Republicans in the U.S. Senate — needs to do more.
I think part of the problem is that we misunderstand the nature of the restaurant and food service industry, we discount the jobs that are created and don’t think enough about what it takes to be successful.
Restaurants should really be thought of as manufacturing (an idea that I picked up from former congressional candidate Lucas St. Clair, who owned a restaurant). They involve complicated logistics of just-in-time delivery of perishable items, food construction and delivery, all in a compressed timeline.
While we often think of restaurant workers as poorly paid — and some surely are — the industry also creates solid careers.
Being a chef is a hard, good job. Running a kitchen is a combination of economics, math, food science, public health, human resource management, public relations and magic. It’s a hard-nosed business with thin margins, hot and stressful work environments, and a fickle public with ever-changing tastes.
Beyond the direct impact, restaurants and bars also support a long supply chain that includes the manufacturing of durable goods, such as ovens and refrigerators, farmers and fishermen, laundries, brewers and distilleries, and food supply companies.
U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer has proposed legislation that would have spent $120 billion to help restaurants and bars. The relief act, whittled down by Republicans, doesn’t come close to that level of support.
“These half a million restaurants, diners, coffee shops and bars employ 11 million Americans and are the cornerstones of communities large and small,” Blumenauer told the Washington Post. “It is as irresponsible as it is heartless that Republicans rejected this targeted aid. We need to immediately take this up with the new Congress and the Biden administration to deal with the serious shortcomings of this bill and save our restaurants.”
A friend of mine sells food to restaurants, another sells kitchen equipment, one owns a coffee shop and another a barbecue joint. My cousin raises beef cattle. Portland, where I live, relies on tourists drawn to our city by the food scene. Seniors are counting on the local bagel shop for a gathering place to gossip and see friends. I need a good cup of coffee right now. We all need help (although the kind I need is a lot different).
Frankly, there is so much COVID-19-linked misery right now, that we as a country should be doing more to help a number of industries and workers. We should invest in our people and the ties that bind our communities together.
It’s no time to be a grinch.