Neighborhood Restaurant and Bakery: Contemporary Food Consumption
My view of food has changed drastically in the past two months. My once very simplified view has expanded to see food as much more than just its physical characteristics. It has grown to be more in line with Roland Barthes’ description of food found in his article “Toward a Psychosociology of Contemporary Food Consumption.” Barthes describes food as “not only a collection of products that can be used for statistical or nutritional studies,” but also as “a system of communication, a body of images, a protocol of usages, situations, and behavior” (29). As Barthes states, food is not just about numbers. Food reveals much more than that, especially about people, and it often tells a story.
The Neighborhood Restaurant in the Union Square neighborhood of Somerville, MA certainly understands this deeper meaning of food, even if I did not always. Owned by Sheila Borges, the restaurant has workers primarily from the Borges family, though, even those who are not technically part of the family are treated as such and have worked there for over ten years. The restaurant’s many patrons are included in this sense of “family tradition,” as Sheila Borges refers to it, through the food that is served.
If it is your first time at The Neighborhood Restaurant, you will discover that it is impossible for you to go home with any room to eat more. The servers always seem to be bringing you more food, even if you did not order it. All breakfast dishes come with coffee, orange juice, cream of wheat or fresh fruit, and a basket of sweet breads and popovers. All lunch dishes come with coffee, a loaf of bread, and your choice of dessert. Furthermore, coffee, sweet breads, and pastries are provided while waiting in line. All of these complementary sides make one feel at home, or at least make one feel like they are at a close Portuguese friend’s home. As Barthes writes, “…food permits a person…to partake each day of the national past” (32).
At Neighborhood, one can take part in what it is like to eat in a traditional Portuguese home where eating is about having a comforting experience full of abundance. Their constant giving of food also reflects the Portuguese’s desire to share.
As I mentioned previously, all meals at The Neighborhood Restaurant come with coffee. In my own experience, this is the only restaurant I have been to that provides free coffee. According to Roland Barthes in “Contemporary Food Consumption,” coffee is associated with breaks, times of rest, and relaxation (33). This translates to the type of atmosphere that The Neighborhood Restaurant wants to create for its patrons. They want their patrons to enjoy a leisurely meal where they can sit with friends and family, and appreciate one another’s company. For them, eating is not about working, but about taking time for oneself to slow down for a moment. The intimate atmosphere of Neighborhood also demonstrates the importance of not only relaxing but of sharing that time and food with those who are close to you. It is amazing that so much can be inferred from a cup of coffee and a piece of bread.
Barthes, Roland. “Toward a Psychosociology of Contemporary Food Consumption.” Food and Culture: A Reader, Second Edition 2008: 28-35.
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