Social Geography and Food

Neighborhoods in cities where you walk to restaurants may, in fact, contribute to what’s on the plate.  Long before there were, “Destination Restaurants,” and, “Restaurants Worth A Detour,” as described in the Michelin guides (designed by a tire company and meant to promote automobile travel), cities had places in which to dine where customers walked in.

The walkers often lived in the same neighborhood as the restaurant, and cooked a lot of the same food at home. In these restaurants, people dined for a number of specific reasons.

It was nice to be sociable with neighbors.  Great not to have to cook.  Good to have a place to celebrate some occasion, big or small, in ways that let others know of the success.  A place to do business, advance a cause, have a conversation that could not be held at home, wonderful to be taken care of in a familiar setting.

Some cities still have this.  And the result are restaurants where cooks and patrons have a shared and often simple understanding of what tastes good.

But in cities in which people are separated by cars and don’t interact much day to day with restaurateurs or cooks, the restaurants, most of them, have a separate life.  These restaurants reflect the ideas and intentions of the chefs and owners who try to create a reality that may have little to do with the social geography of their customers.

The result is superficiality on the plate, or at least a division between the food and the person eating it.

Or, on a positive note, the restaurateur or chef casts a very wide net, and aims to entice as many customers as possible.  This lack of specificity spawned franchises and big menus.

All in all, what’s lost is one purpose of a restaurant, which is, fundamentally, to bring people together.  Instead, the result are restaurants that have little to do with community, and instead are rather like a social imposition.


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