Eating in the time of the Coronavirus

Culture Food

It’s 2020, and humanity has become unmoored. Multiple countries have declared a state of emergency. Country borders are closing. Cities are on lockdown: shops are shuttered, rush-hour traffic is a thing of the past, supermarkets shelves lie desolate. Welcome to life in the time of the coronavirus outbreak. Here, pandemonium reigns, for there is nothing that we humans fear more than uncertainty.

Even in times of crisis, we must eat. But now that too has become tricky. Social isolation is a challenging feat in itself. But how do you feed yourself when you are housebound? How do you whip up even the most basic pasta, when shelves in the shops remain bare?

Here I offer you a small consolation in the form of some good news. You are not going to starve, and you do not need to kick into panic-buy-mode (easier said than done, I am well aware). Here are some ways in which you can support yourself, the community, and independent businesses during these unsettling times.


Support Small Businesses
The pandemic is causing major repercussions for small businesses and is likely to cause numerous business fatalities. Xenophobia has reared its ugly head, with Chinese-run businesses being particularly badly hit by plummeting sales. Small business owners are faced with the ultimate dilemma – risk the safety of their staff, or close their doors and risk never being able to open them again. Even those who are trying to ride it out have seen their clientele dwindle down to a trickle.

While the government has advised against going out to cafes and bars, there is still some that can be done to help those in a vulnerable financial position. Many locally-run cafes and restaurants still offer take-out, and Deliveroo has even introduced a contact-free delivery option. Spending money on a takeaway, if you can afford it, can help keep these businesses afloat.

This does raise an ethical question regarding the safety of delivery drivers. They are the ones most at risk since they come into contact with multiple people throughout their shift, and often do not have the luxury of paid time off work or insurance against unemployment. While there is no perfect solution to this, you can always try to be as considerate as possible – chose the contact-free option when available (or call ahead to ask if this is an option), and –please—tip your rider. They are putting themselves at a huge personal risk to provide you with a service. Be careful, be compassionate.

If ordering a delivery is not your jam, there are still ways you can show your support for small businesses. Get a gift card to use at a later date, buy store merchandise (those T-shirts from the Missing Bean are sounding pretty fabulous), get supplies like coffee beans from cafes, or homemade jam from bakeries. Failing that, you can go through a more direct route and donate to crowdfunding pages specifically dedicated to preventing these companies from being crushed beneath the enormous weight of the pandemic.

Admittedly, none of this addresses the systemic issue at hand, that there is little to no support for entrepreneurs and workers who will be tremendously affected by the changing social climate. It isn’t a perfect world, so please be considerate to delivery and service staff – they are trying their best, they are tired, they are worried.


Support the community
If there is one thing I urge you to take away from this article, it is this – panic-buying serves no one. You are left with more than you could possibly need, service staff are weary and exhausted from constantly restocking shelves, and the most vulnerable members of society (who need non-perishables more than we do) are all too often left without. In an effort to counter this, many shops are introducing a protected shopping time for the elderly or more vulnerable. It’s hard to imagine how things have escalated quite so quickly.

You do not need five boxes of penne pasta. If you truly do require a 24-roll pack of loo roll for the week, you should see a doctor for reasons entirely unrelated to COVID-19. This trend of panic-buying is placing an exorbitant strain on supermarket staff, and causing even more people to stockpile as a knee-jerk reaction to seeing empty shelves.

If you are fortunate enough to have grabbed more loo roll or dried goods than you realistically need, donate some of it to people who may need it more than you do. If you are aware of a neighbour or friend who is unable to leave the house easily (due to age, being in quarantine or otherwise ill health), offer to run some essential errands for them. Pick them up some food from the stores, offer to pop into Boots for their prescriptions, or simply give them a ring every now and then to see how they are getting on.

It is especially in times like this when the natural feeder in me bursts forth. I show my love for people by cooking for them, and what better time to offer comfort in the form of a large casserole dish of gooey macaroni than now? Is offering to cook for a neighbour or friend ultimately going to cause more harm than good?

According to the Centres for Disease Control, there is no evidence that the virus can be transmitted via food. The virus itself is heat-sensitive – so as long as you are practising good hygiene, and heating up food to the appropriate temperatures, the risk should be minimal. Salads and sandwiches, for this reason, are a little riskier. The virus has been shown to be able to survive on surfaces for up to 24 hours, so keep everything—hands, countertops, bowls, produce—as clean as possible. Any leftovers should be covered and refrigerated swiftly.

The standard rules apply for the suggestions made here, please make sure that you are feeling well enough in yourself to do this for other people.


Support yourself
Social isolation is not peachy. It is mind-numbingly dull, you run out of ways to occupy yourself, and there is a limit to how many Netflix shows you can saturate your day with (or is there?). I am of the belief that there is nothing that can truly unite people in times of anguish than food. And when physical proximity is impossible, technology can still swoop in to our rescue.

Make a Whatsapp or FaceTime group with your pals, and from a cooking club. Swap recipes, cooking tips, ways to embellish your third day of leftovers. Or, if cooking isn’t your thing, I have discovered that wine is truly one of the best accompaniments to a group video call. It is fancy, it’s social, and you can do it all in your jimjams.

If you prefer cooking solo, perhaps now would be the perfect time to pick up a culinary hobby that would otherwise command quite a lot of your attention. All those months I have spent putting off taking my sourdough starter out of hibernation were not in vain – for now, I have ample opportunity to breathe new life into Shirley (that’s the name of my starter, which is totally not weird, at all). If the prospect of making a ‘mother dough’ sounds like the stuff of nightmares, you can start elsewhere. Make jam! Make pickles! Make Kombucha! Sharpen your knife skills! Learn better puns! The only limit is your imagination… and what social isolation can afford you.

Spending all day indoors can make even the most secure person feel unhinged, so if you are someone who already feels extreme anxiety around our current situation, please, take care of yourself. Make sure you have friends or family members to support you. Self-care comes in many different forms, but it is important for you to find something that eases your mind, even if it is only fleetingly. I write food articles, so naturally, my form of self-care involves quite a lot of time in the kitchen. If you, like me, are fighting an almost irresistible urge to bake fifteen different cookie recipes to decide which reigns supreme, watch this space – we will be offering you cooking projects to fill your days with. Stay safe and stay snug, as we wait this madness out together, even if we are apart.


Photo Source: Eneas De Troya, Flickr Creative Commons

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