This post was originally published in Comida Studies, introducing the Latin American Restaurants in Action Project, written by the project director, Dr. Melissa Fuster.
Last March, when I drafted my dispatch for Gastronomica’s special edition on Food in Times of COVID-19, I wrote from a place of uncertainty. My article, Community Health Research, Restaurants, and Adjusting amid Uncertainty, documented my nostalgia for restaurants and the abrupt pause in my restaurant-focused study. I concluded the article with a look to the future:
Just as these businesses adapt to the changing and challenging circumstances, within careful calculations, so will my research. The road ahead to accomplish the aims set out in my very first NIH-funded project will certainly be a steep one, but also a necessary one. [We need] to better engage the structural realities that ultimately create persisting and preventable health inequities in the communities around us. Community food businesses – bodegas, street vendors, and restaurants – will continue to be essential in this task and, ultimately, in all of our lives.Fuster (2020)
Months later, I am happy to share that the research is finally restarting! I have indeed adapted. The persistence of COVID-19 and restaurant closures led me to expand my focus, shifting from the original emphasis on Hispanic Caribbean restaurants in New York City, to a wider audience – restaurants serving Latin American foods in the Unted States. This new project – the Latin American Restaurants in Action Project, or LARiA – aims to facilitate peer-to-peer learning and innovation to address diet-related health inequities in Latino communities, while also boosting business health and resilience.
Aside from responding to pressing public health issues, the emphasis on health also responds to industry trends. According to the National Restaurants Association 2020 State of the Industry Report,
the hottest food offerings in 2020 include plant-based proteins, healthy bowls, and global cuisines and consumers have more food choices than ever. What makes a difference? Healthful options, food source-transparency and a commitment to sustainability.
More news about LARiA soon, including our call for restaurant owners and staff to participate in group discussions, to learn about their experiences and issues faced during COVID-19.
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