Context 165 - August 2020

C O N T E X T 1 6 5 : A U G U S T 2 0 2 0 11 Food and drink FOOD AND DRINK Opposite: An interior at the Nag’s Head, Bishop Stortford (1935, Grade II), designed by EB Musman (Photo: John East) See page 29 Editorial Change on the menu Nothing is more basic than eating and drinking, and nothingmore complex. Eating and drinking are sociable activities: a great deal of our social lives revolves around them. They are vast industries. They raise numerous ethical and religious issues. They have an enormous impact on the planet. They shape our public spaces, high streets, and most other parts of our towns and cities. They involve complex arts and technologies. All these aspects of eating and drinking are constantly changing, and those changes have always been reflected in the built heritage. Factories, markets, shops, pubs, restaurants, hotels and the food-related parts of homes tell stories of how we procure our food and drink, how it is delivered to us, how we prepare it, how it relates to what we believe and value, and how we socialise. Building conservationists enjoy studying how buildings and spaces can be nurtured inways that tell those stories most effectively. Then suddenly the paceof change is transformed. Almost overnight the pandemic saw us buying food online, abandoning high streets, learning new culinary arts, eating and drinking only at home or socially distanced, washing our groceries, and avoiding strangers. Some of the changes will be only temporary, if the pandemic disappears. Others may permanently alter how we live. Until the beginning of this year most of us had given little thought to pandemics. They happened in the far east or some other distant place, and the government, we were told, had plans for dealing with the unlikely event of a dangerous virus coming nearer home. Now that we know that global disasters happen, there is another potential one to concern ourselves with. Like the pandemic, climate change might affect people who we do not think about, or governments may have viable plans to prevent it or remediate its effects, or technology may come to the rescue. But we now know that we would be crazy to rely on any of those. The answer must be to make places resilient to dramatic events relating to pandemics or climate change. We need to create and conserve places that are adaptable, efficient in their use of resources, walkable and valued, and that can be lived locally. Yet the government is keen to facilitate the demolition of disused shops, offices and other empty properties to housing, with as little consideration as possible. The extraordinary discussion about whether habitable rooms should have windows shows where that can lead. Now, more than ever, building conservationists are needed to help us understand what is valued and why, and how places can change in ways that will make them resilient and loved.We hope that this issue of Context , focusing on food and drink, is a tasty contribution to that process.