Roar writer Molly Green on how cooking has changed in our daily lives during lockdown.
The link between food and normality has never been clearer than during lockdown. I have been working in a food shop since the beginning of April and seen firsthand how comfort-eating is a crutch for us all. As normality slowly resumes, this Culinary Arts Month I want to reflect on the conversations about food that began when closed restaurants and empty shelves made creative home cooking a necessity.
It feels like a long time ago that, as the likelihood of government-enforced lockdown grew, people stockpiled pasta, baked beans and toilet roll. The commentary on this was constant and quickly very dull, so I wonâ€™t dwell. Yet I wasnâ€™t ever disinterested in the overheard conversations about how someone had substituted a missing ingredient or found a corner shop miraculously well stocked.
In an atmosphere of vague hostility, with routine virtually gone – or gone virtual – I started to obsess over what was deemed â€˜necessaryâ€™ shopping. The idea of necessity is actually hard to pin down. Sustenance is obviously needed, but surely so is variety; once this is accounted for then so must favourite foods be; now treats, distractions, consolatory chocolate. A packet of sweets might seem frivolous but contains an hour of quiet for parents unused to spending so much time with their kids. The latter is a conversation Iâ€™ve had often during the last few weeks.
One customer, who uses a bandana as a mask and carries his groceries in a wicker basket, presented me with bicarbonate of soda, porridge oats and prosecco. Cake ingredients, we all remember, were nonexistent, but he was determined to celebrate his daughterâ€™s birthday. The ritual of eating cake on a birthday is but one demonstration of how food, routine and comfort can be inextricable. Further is the care in the act of home baking, a demonstration of love that felt especially necessary in lockdown.
Cooking and eating fill time, which weâ€™ve had a lot of, but there’s also the therapeutic value of cooking; these last few months made it unavoidable, so we all learnt to engage in it, if not necessarily enjoy it. Putting effort into sourcing ingredients and following a recipe is a change from a normality not long established, insofar as ready meals and affordable dining out are relatively new phenomena. By trying to replicate the normality of once-a-week Wagamamas, you might have taught yourself to make katsu curry at home.
Mealtimes are difficult to fit into a â€˜normalâ€™ day of work or uni, yet suddenly they hold time together. The value of food is structural, emotional, and often-overlooked. Conversations about food didnâ€™t begin with lockdown, but they were elevated by our shared need for community and solidarity. Hopefully, the new value in food wonâ€™t be lost; keep eating well, or start, and mark Culinary Arts Month 2020.