How is Coronavirus affecting our cooking and eating habits?

Chris Bird, News Editor

With stay at home orders, social distancing, bans on in person dining, and a combination of some foods going out of stock and people losing their sources of income, the food situation in America has changed very quickly. For all sorts of reasons, people are cooking for themselves more often and are relying on restaurants less due to Coronavirus. Each person is being affected differently, but we all have to eat, and plenty of people are spending more time cooking out of necessity, for entertainment, or for the sense of community that sharing a meal or recipe can bring.

The increase in home cooking has been reflected in businesses, with many places that sell ingredients and food for home cooking doing better. According to Yelp’s recent Coronavirus Economic Impact Report: “When consumers are buying food for their own preparation at home, they’re looking to stock up at local businesses with a range of provisions, or suppliers already set up to deliver. Community-supported agriculture businesses, grocery stores, fruits & veggies stores, and butchers all are gaining shares of the food business (up 455%, 186%, 129%, and 96%).” Each person will handle these times differently, but certainly we are looking at a whole lot more people than usual who are cooking at home, and working with whatever ingredients they have.

Personally, I have found myself trying to think of interesting ways to replace the meals that I used to always have when I was out and about. Plenty of people who work the usual morning to afternoon jobs, or who go to school most of the day, really only end up having time to prepare one or two meals a day. I would usually have time to make a small breakfast before leaving in the morning, like a bagel with cream cheese, nothing complicated. I would eat lunch at school, and me or my partner would cook dinner when I got home if we were feeling up to it. Dinner was usually the only meal I would consistently really go the extra mile to cook something filling and nice. Days when we weren’t feeling it, we would go out or find something worth ordering.

Ever since the Coronavirus became an issue, my partner and me are covering all of those meals at home with whatever we have on hand. I’ve really been trying to stay at home as much as possible, so the shopping trips I’ve made have mostly been picking up things that can last, and then some foods I know I can use before they go bad like eggs, meat, bread, and my favorite produce. Sweet potatoes, by the way, are my favorite of favorites when it comes to produce.

With all this extra time being spent cooking, I couldn’t help but want to try new things, if only to keep myself from making the same meals over and over again. I’ve made what were essentially sweet potato hash browns for breakfast, burritos with sweet potatoes in them, and sweet potato and chicken curry for that nice sweet/spicy combo. My efforts aren’t limited to those yams either. I’ve been making more smoothies than ever, and I even made a sort of coffee whipped cream that I saw online, which was amazing. I plan to make my own tapioca bubbles, since it’s not really easy to get bubble tea right now, and I really want to find a nice cake to put that coffee whipped cream on top of. I’m not being creative all the time though, and I also sometimes just heat up a pot pie or have ramen. Take out still exists too. I’m not perfect, but I’m trying to keep things fresh here.

Trying to keep my food interesting to eat, as well less monotonous to make, has made me much more aware of all of the recipes and food related content online. People are sharing their recipes and pictures of food everywhere right now. There is some of a push, from what I’ve seen, towards sharing recipes that are fairly simple. So many of us are working with more limited ingredients due to less income or the store shelves being cleared of certain ingredients recently.

While looking around for recipes and food advice, I even stumbled across major news sites that have been reporting on food and how Coronavirus has changed things. One article in particular that caught my attention was one from Aljazeera written by a professional chef named Saransh Goila. Goila shares “I would say it does not matter if you are a first-time cook or an expert, food has always been a necessity but when you start cooking to share meals with your community, it can be like music or mediation, depending on the occasion.” Sharing meals can really help keep the peace if you are cooped up with others during the stay at home order, and food soothes our minds in all sorts of ways. Goila also emphasized that he has recently been sharing more simple meals that often use one pot, and fewer ingredients. These are times where many who are not used to cooking often, as well as many who may not have a great variety of ingredients are having to cook more out of necessity, and simplicity can be a real life saver.

Goila even shared that some of the more “rooted” conversations he has had about food recently are more focused on talk like “Did that plate fill your belly?” and “I hope what’s on your plate is satisfying.” The most important thing for many right now is making sure that people are getting the food they need. We should make sure that people are getting the nutrition they need, and that they know where to get foods and how to cook them. We can find comfort in the simplest foods knowing that it is what we and others need right now. To this end there is actually a guide by the WHO, which is worth checking out, that helps people plan what they can buy and how to stay healthy and nourished during this global crisis. The guide is simply titled “Food and nutrition tips during self-quarantine.”

Due to Coronavirus and its potential lasting impacts, it seems like many of us will be cooking and eating at home more than we are used to for a while yet. A study by Technomic, a company that focuses on research and consultation surrounding the food and food service industries, pointed toward the public shifting away from getting their meals from restaurants. As of the most recent update, the group surveyed showed that 77 percent of people would go out to eat as much, 59 percent would not order out for food or drinks as much, and 59 percent were concerned over food or supplies shortages. All of these factors contribute to people being more likely to stay home and deal with food for themselves, working with what they’ve got.

These times may be a bit of a struggle as we all try to adapt, but I think this can also be an opportunity to expand your cooking knowledge and look to your local and online communities for the potential to share and find new recipes. Make that buffalo chicken dip recipe that you saw. Try and recreate the chicken tenders you are starting to miss from the school cafeteria. Learn to spice up the simplest meals like oatmeal or rice. Share your successes with your friends. Share your failures too, it’s all part of the process. We may not be able to literally sit down and share in a meal, but we can make the best of our situation and share our experiences and recipes to keep the long human tradition of sharing our food with each other.