Through a Different Lens
Author: Lauren Hunsberger | Photography: Parastu Shubin | Posted In: Meet | March 2021
Bellevue Club member and food-safety expert Parastu Shubin launched a social media account just to document the effects of COVID on the PNW food industry.
Parastu Shubin has always been fascinated by the intersection of the food and restaurant industries with health care. With a master’s in food safety, she has made a career of studying and tracing foodborne pathogens, such as salmonella, listeria and more.
In early 2020, when COVID-19 surfaced in Washington State, Shubin immediately knew the food industry was going to change—possibly for the long haul. So she did something she never had before: she grabbed her camera.
“This is a project about storytelling,” Shubin says. “The food industry has had to deal with onerous new safety restrictions and been forced to overcome disruption and demand. To quickly troubleshoot and provide a safe working environment for food and farm workers, business owners had to take action according to CDC and OSHA guidelines and the best available science..”
As news was breaking of the pandemic, Shubin, taking all safety precautions possible, began visiting local and national restaurants and grocery stores to document what she instinctively knew would be the beginning of an evolution. “By sharing my story with viewers, I have created images to address the public’s concern with COVID-19 and convey a visual description full of integrity, tension, food workers and shoppers’ service.” She started an Instagram account @21st_century_eats to post what she found.
“I took immediate notice of how quickly things were changing, week to week, day to day,” she says. “Customer service now means pointing to where an item might be, filling per cup without refills, or asking the attendant for a new cup. Paying a local honey bee provider at a cash register means using a stick from eight feet away. Restaurants, grocery stores and fish markets try to cope by offering pickup or delivery. As a result, portions of their stores are now full of boxes waiting. “
She started noting what products couldn’t keep up with demand and the toll the experience was taking on the workers. But her main goal was to document what was working.
“This ongoing project began [in March] as the world began to deal with the impacts of COVID-19 on our society,” Shubin says. “These photos focus on the best practices according to the health department and best-available science to minimize transmission risk.
“My hope in doing this project is to illustrate the ways social distancing, hand hygiene, group shopping, face covering and stocking up on pandemic household supplies have affected the food premises and employees.”
Aside from photographing what’s happening here in the Pacific Northwest specifically, she spends her spare time learning from other experts—mainly reading about and listening to speakers on international food policy.
“There are devastating stories about the pandemic from around the world as we deal with loss, uncertainty and change. One thing stays strong regardless of politics and cultures, and that is we continue moving forward and staying positive.” Shubin says.
You can follow Shubin as she continues to share photos and engage in discourse about the industry here: @21st_century_eats