Cooking in the time of Coronavirus

6th Aug 20 by Christina O'Sullivan

At Feedback, we have been reflecting on how our cooking habits have changed during this time.

You can listen to an audio recording of this blog here

In these weird times, I have been turning to my kitchen for comfort. It seems that I am not alone, more than 19 million people saying that they are cooking more from scratch. The recent National Food Strategy report highlighted that around 26% of people surveyed were eating more with their families. It is clear that the Covid-19 crisis has impacted how we buy, cook and consume food. At Feedback, we have been reflecting on how our cooking habits have changed during this time.

Just add time

For me personally, I found I finally had time to make some of the things on my ever expanding to-cook list. A combination of working from home and crossing out social events in my day planner led me to my kitchen. I along with many others acquired a sourdough starter (Keith and I are still very happy together) and I spent many weekend afternoons with my housemate making delicious feasts for us to share.

“Perhaps you had your own recipe, somewhere in the back of your mind or in a family cookbook, that you wanted to try but never had the opportunity to?”

The highlight was Samin Nosrat’s tahdig – something I had been meaning to make since watching her make it with her mom on Salt Fat Acid Heat and despite my housemate owning the cookbook and our best intentions we had never found time to make it. This dish is for me what the best recipes are – a combination of simple ingredients to make something greater than the sum of its parts. It’s just rice, butter and yoghurt but you need to really wash the rice and take your time with the cooking – but when you flip it and see that golden crust *chef’s kiss*.

“Cooking shows us over and over again that we can make things happen, we can make change happen, with just our own hands. Food is metaphor personified and within that there is reaffirmation of what we can accomplish.” Julia Turshen, Feed the Resistance

Cooking has reminded me in these difficult times that things can change. For me, the power of cooking extends beyond producing good food. It itself presents a form of activism – it reminds me that I have agency and control. That even when it feels like the world is falling apart, I can still make bread rise (most of the time). Cooking provides me with a perspective that change is possible, that with some imagination I can transform simple ingredients into a nourishing meal. If there ever has been a time for transformative thinking it is now.

Sharing resources – Lucy Antal, manages Feedback’s Alchemic Kitchen

I’m a baker. Every week I make a sourdough loaf, using a starter gifted to me by Vanessa Kimbell (queen of sourdough) that I’ve kept going since 2013. Cake is my way to show love and get things done (did someone say bribery?). When the Covid-19 restrictions kicked in, along with the extra stocking up, the first thing to disappear from the shelves of supermarkets was flour. In all its forms. Twitter was full of frantic appeals from regular bakers suddenly unable to source flour. Without wishing to sound too Soprano, I have connections. And used them to bulk buy flour from Shipton Mill and other catering suppliers. 16 kilo sacks of flour came to the house. I parcelled them up into kilo boxes, and passed it out to my neighbours and friends whilst maintaining strict social distancing parameters and precautionary gloves. Yeast had also disappeared from the shops, so I kept making more sourdough starter and passing that out as well. I continued to bake, and enjoyed connecting IRL with Twitter friends – dropping by to pick up the “white gold” and have a socially distanced shout across the garden fence. It reminded me of the way that food is a connector, a way to break down social barriers and a source of comfort in difficult times.  I shared hot cross buns at Easter with my neighbours, and got Easter eggs in return. We have become friends.

“Good bread is the most fundamentally satisfying of all foods; and good bread with fresh butter, the greatest of feasts.” – James Beard

 A sense of familiarity

Other Feedback staff members have commented that they found themselves making familiar food such as vegan chilli in the slow cooker. Familiar meals can provide comfort in unusual times – the sound of my dal dancing on the stove always makes me feel a little better.

Simple pleasures

People also noted that they appreciated simple pleasures again such as a trip to their local chippy. Food is nostalgic – the tantalising smell of salt and vinegar can transport you to the beach, even when you are in lockdown in London. Gelato on sunny days has reminded me of trips to Italy and reminded me that life exists beyond the isolation of lockdown.

Finding solace in cooking – Mia Watanable, Big Livestock campaigner

The kitchen has been a place of respite for me. It has taken me away from my worries about the wider world and towards the intricacies of baking bread, pickling veg and cooking with more resourceful ingredients. Like therapy, my kitchen has kept me grounded in my physical presence and helped stop me from getting caught up in my anxieties. Through kneading dough and mixing batter, I’ve discovered a physical outlet for all that adrenaline that’s been filling me with dread. When everything outside the kitchen was tough, it was the stuff that was inside the kitchen that gave me a sense of comfort and control.

I would love to hear from you – what have you been cooking?

What can you do next?

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