Comfort Food #18: Elisabeth Raether – How does Corona change our consumer behaviour?
“At the moment, it is becoming obvious that our social system is dependent on our consumption. The question of whether a new system is possible is open.”
Elisabeth Raether – Die Zeit, 19.05.20
Elisabeth Raether is author of the recipe column “Wochenmarkt” (German for „farmers market“) in ZEITmagazin and co-head of the department Politics of ZEIT. She developed the “Wochenmarkt” ten years ago as a reaction to the professionalized reporting on restaurants. In the Corona crisis, the simple recipes from the “Wochenmarkt” are now more relevant than ever. Consumer behaviour is also coming under scrutiny in this context. We spoke with Elisabeth about the new simplicity Corona has brought, and how it could affect gastronomy and our food culture.
Can our welfare state survive without consumerism? The Corona crisis exposes inequalities like a magnifying glass. Now is a good time to look into our macrosociology textbooks: Here in Germany, our model of the welfare state is employment-based. This means that social security benefits are largely tied to how long and how much we work. Mostly, therefore, to how much is consumed at the other end. But this crisis is challenging our consumption habits: “People are now longing for fresh air, light, health and space”, and ask themselves, “what is actually important in my life?”, says Elisabeth Raether. What tensions does this create? And how do we want to define luxury? Is it abundance, efficiency, or social security, public welfare?
We now have the chance to reflect and change consumer habits we’ve taken for granted. For example regarding meat: “Meat has always been a complicated food for people. Because the ingredient is preceded by an act of violence, it always had to be justified – for example through sacrificial rituals. Today, the way we deal with it is to banalize it. At the same time, we separate it from the rest of society. The butchers do not speak our language, we never come into contact with them. Otherwise, we wouldn’t be able to process the aggression that is inherent to eating meat, [and the extent of our meat consumption] today.” The connection between industrial meat production and the COVID19 virus, as well as scandals about numerous Corona-outbreaks in German slaughterhouses under appalling working conditions, show that it’s high time to rethink this system.
In gastronomy too, we’re witnessing a different understanding of quality. “The main goal of star chefs 30 years ago was to expand their product range. They went on trips to France or Italy to discover things and then present them in Germany, from artichokes to crème fraîche. […] We’ve reached a point where it cannot be increased any more. And since we know the costs it issues on the other side, it has also lost its appeal.” This is another reason why we at Die Gemeinschaft are committed to establishing a new food culture that examines the whole process, and focuses on locality and its uniqueness.