Food, and the Search for a Third Place

The Pandemic and the Third Place

The first year of the pandemic being my freshman year of college opened my eyes to how many opportunities I have taken for granted. When college came right around the corner, I envisioned myself being able to breeze through life carefree – going to cafes in the morning to review yesterday’s notes and accomplish procrastinated homework; going to bars at night to celebrate a hectic day’s end with my friends. Because of the pandemic, I could not make these tiny ideas of fun come true.

Instead, the online setup took over. My pandemic work ethic consisted of air-frying chicken nuggets, preparing a mug of cold espresso latte, and searching for “Aesthetic Cafe Ambience” on Youtube. I would have my notebooks and readings in front of me as I munched on my food – the very fuel of the physical, mental, and emotional apparatus I call my body.

Little did I know these small actions were just small and simple manifestations of an intrinsic modern human need – the need for a third space.

The Third Space Network discusses the Third Space as such:

The concept of the third space has been used as a sociocultural term to designate communal space, as distinct from the home (first space) or work (second space). The third space has been defined as a nightclub or sports arena or museum where the individual can experience a transformative sense of self, identity, and relation to others.

The onslaught of the pandemic and the rise of the online setup have put the three spaces into a blender – wherein the four corners of our gadgets became the amalgamation of home, work, and recreation.

Food and the Third Place

Unlike online-mediated technology, food is intrinsic to these settings. Food naturally guides you through these three places – grounding you and guiding you along the way.

The eggs and bacon toast your mother makes is different from the eggs and bacon toast you get in the cafe on the way to work – something more than the store-bought cheddar and the fresh mozzarella used in these two distinct takes. Likewise, the cocktail you drink at the bar during the Celtics game and the one you made for yourself the day you lost your promotion just taste clear-cut. 

The juxtaposition of one meal and another allows you to subconsciously find their uniqueness – as they are reflections of the environments from where you eat. Food is the anchor during times when the stress of unfamiliar circumstances fills you with the urge to flee. In other words, food reminds you that there is a ground, and the ground is where you are.

“With lockdowns and quarantines, most of us experienced a dramatic shrinking of our social and physical world, which still hasn’t re-expanded.” In These Times says. The online setup has rewired our brains into blurring the lines between work, home, and leisure. Our tasks, goals, and worries – our overall mindset – become a fog through our headspace cannot navigate through. Because of this anxiety and dissociation, we take things more seriously than we did before.

The rise of TikTok recipes during the pandemic allowed for a thread that sewed the quilt of the three social places. It made a quilt of a better amalgamation – not some blended catastrophe that utterly lacked organized cohesion. 

Food organized these three places for us — as it allowed a slow, calm mental transport from one “place” to another: We learn recipes from the third place we call the internet. Then, we prepare these recipes in the comfort of the first place we call home. At last, we enjoy this food as we work – our second place. 

Post-Pandemic Third Places

As the health and sanitary regulations slowly start to lift up, third places are starting to reclaim their stand. Cafes are filling and bars are more alive than ever. No longer do we have the need to search “Outdoor Sound Effects” on Youtube in a desperate attempt to search for a third place. How else will these third places change? How will we adapt to other catastrophes? How will technology help and hinder our nomadic search for third places in the near future? One thing is for sure: As long as there is food, we will be able to ground and guide ourselves, no matter where we go.


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