I love going out to eat. There’s something so quintessentially luxurious about sitting down in my favorite restaurant or at the bar and enjoying food I didn’t have to cook with those I love. I also haven’t spent more than five minutes in a restaurant since March, and I do not plan to do so for the foreseeable future, even as restaurants tentatively reopen. The reason, of course, is because I would really prefer not to kill anyone.
Many of us have already seen images of wait staff decked out in protective masks, gloves and shields while taking orders from tables full of unmasked people. Even with this protection, the close proximity to chewing, talking, laughing people puts service employees at an incredible risk for contracting COVID-19. And for what? So the work-from-home crowd can enjoy a steak cooked by someone making less than minimum wage, someone who has to choose between losing their job and losing their life? The idea chills me to the bone.
I understand that people are feeling cooped up. I understand that social interaction is important, and that people miss their old habits. But are we so myopic that we would endanger others for our own fleeting pleasure? In states that have begun the reopening process, cases of COVID-19 have skyrocketed. Beaches have become breeding grounds, and it’s worth noting that the people dancing in gray water will return to their families and continue the spread before overfilling hospitals and morgues. Despite reopening efforts, nothing has changed. There is no widely available vaccine for COVID-19, and there are not enough hospitals and staff to care for the ill and dying.
I work in the service industry, and even though my workplace requires masks, customers still come in every day wearing their masks improperly. A gentle reminder can lead to open hostility and even violence, and service employees simply cannot babysit every single person they come into contact with. If we go out to eat, we place servers and staff at risk for our own pleasure.
I’m reminded of the Talmudic concept of pikuach nefesh, or the principle in Jewish law that the preservation of human life overrides other religious rules. In a life-or-death situation, a Jewish person may break Jewish law, eat non-kosher food to prevent starvation or even kill in the case of a rodef, or aggressor. Jewish tradition dictates that human life is important above all else and that it should be preserved in whatever way possible. Putting another person at risk of contracting a disease that could either kill them or cause them an incredible amount of suffering for our own pleasure is not in accordance with Jewish tradition.
There are other options for us. We can continue to cook at home or order takeout or plan a remote movie night with our friends. We can still connect with each other without placing other people at risk. I understand that it’s tempting to ignore the current horrors of the world in favor of enjoyment, but we cannot become complacent and believe that if we are to live our lives as we desire, somebody must die. That is simply unacceptable.
There will be a time in the future where we may return to our lives, but we must be alive to live them. I don’t want to live in a world where service employees are forced into dangerous situations in order to keep their livelihood. We must remember that things will change, but that they still have a long way to go. For now, it’s imperative that we look inside ourselves and act with compassion and thoughtfulness toward everyone, even those we don’t know personally.