The power of human connection — during uncertain times

There is a time and place for everything. Nature ebbs and flows and with it, so do our tastes, preferences, spending habits, and morale. Great events come with great change. Covid-19 is such an event, unexpected, unknown, and wildly different from natural disasters or world wars that we have experienced in the past. The pandemic has created a tectonic shift in many industries.

While some fear the future, others are adapting to the realities of the present, understanding that in times of change opportunities arise and great innovations take place. It’s time to redesign on a macro and micro level. As a young entrepreneur, on a journey to pivot, I’ve looked to others — who have shifted economies, set trends, and created industries — for inspiration.

Why do some embrace change while others cower at the sight of it and wait for yesterday to return?

Coco Chanel came from an impoverished household in France. She sought luxury, wealth, fame, and longed to be part of a well-to-do family. She discovered a talent in seamstressing and acquired the gusto to open a store of her own. The store originally produced hats, then moved into garments, accessories, and perfume. Her style was luxurious and original. She focused on comfort and flexibility, something she desired but was lacking in women’s clothing during this time. Instead of relaxed styles, most women dressed in layers upon layers of clothes.

After WWI more women entered the workplace. Working women had increased tasks and wanted more comfortable clothes. Chanel’s style was an immediate hit. Her clothes shaped fashion during this time. While her original pieces were high-end and high-priced, she didn’t mind imitations from other brands. The copycats made her style more widespread, well known, and her originals more desirable. Chanel’s line represented luxury and freedom for women — two values she had sought from a young age.

Was it these values that made her brand stick, or the times that embraced these values with her?

In 1929 the Great Depression increased unemployment by 24.5% in the United States. At the same time, cars were becoming more “mainstream.” Between 1909 and 1920 the Ford Motor Company dropped the price of their Model T from $550 to $360 — whopping 63% — and sold 1.25 million cars in 1920 alone. Many who were unemployed during the Great Depression turned to the cheap used car market to make some cash. This is how the jitney was born — in which people carried passengers for a low fare — “anyone could become an entrepreneur and make money while driving people around town” (Schmidt, 2015). The model provided independence for drivers and passengers. The concept caught on and started taking business from larger industries like the railroads. The bigger industries revolted and soon jitney’s were limited by legislation. It took 80 years, until 2009, for Travis Kalanick, founder of Uber, to revive the jitney model and make the concept scale.

Research shows the jitney would have been a success if it weren’t for the larger competing industries, so why did it take 80 years to catch on? Was the timing just not right, or did we need to wait for technology to catch up?

Similar to France, the second World War brought women into the workplace in the United States. While men were overseas, women discovered a newfound sense of independence in their own work. More work created less time for household duties like cooking, which resulted in industrial food and TV dinners. In 1963 President Kennedy was assassinated and the hippie movement was born. This bred an anti-establishment culture including protests for peace and a turn from processed foods.

In 1971, Alice Waters opened Chez Panisse, a restaurant located in Berkeley, CA. The restaurant was a reflection of Water’s time spent in France, where chefs used ingredients from local farms and customers spent multiple hours dining at the table. Chez Panisse has become world-renowned for initiating California cuisine, or Farm to Table. Supporting local farms, rather than big ag — Farm to Table was an expression of the anti-establishment, hippie movement.

Was success inherent for Chez Panisse or was it just good timing? If Waters opened the restaurant at a different point in time would it have had the same impact?

What was the motive for Travis Kalanick to start Uber or Alice Waters to open Chez Panisse or Coco Chanel to design a new style? When Kalanick, Waters, or Chanel started their endeavors they were novel concepts. No one else was doing them. Did the times shape their decisions or did their decisions coincide with the times?

As big shifts are happening, every one of us has an opportunity to redesign for the better. In design, we first define the problem to create solutions. One of the most pressing problems today is our desire for human connection, yet connecting is challenging right now given Covid safety protocols that keep us safe and somewhat apart.

We started Nonna Eats with a mission to bring people together with food. Covid is amplifying this need for emotional nourishment, yet creating challenges to execute our mission safely. Almost a year into the pandemic and we are still witnessing the challenge of gathering at a distance. At Nonna Eats, we’ve created a new project called Together Afar that curates coordination for small-to-large remote gatherings so that this year doesn’t have to be a pass and that you have something to look forward to. We’re here to provide connection and joy when we need it most.

We are looking for opportunities inside and outside our walls. Now is the time to come together and create a thriving society for future generations. The change is upon us — only time will tell how our culture will shift, all we know is it will.

About me

I’m Callie, and I’m the Founder & CEO of Nonna Eats, a Boulder (CO) startup dedicated to fostering community through food. I have experience running a variety of culinary teams, as well as web design and branding.

About this publication

This is a series of stories about reclaiming the art of eating and gathering. Through working with the highest quality chefs and producers, we know how to eat well. If you’d like to read more, please follow. Originally posted on nonnaeats.com.

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We create unforgettable dining experiences in the comfort and safety of your own home. We bring the chefs to you. nonnaeats.com

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