Before the pandemic, we were in a relationship with food. And it was complicated. Manic food shops during rush hour, pushing past people to grab some pre-packaged, pristine-looking veg were the norm. We were too used to sitting down for an overly expensive meal in a restaurant, only to eat the tiniest portion known to man. Faced with carbs, calories, and copious amounts of guilt, food was something to be loathed.
As our lives shut down, the moments of normalcy we once took for granted quickly became something we lusted over. We craved nights out for the chips we’d buy on the way home that were smothered in curry sauce. We longed for the buttery warmth of plunging your hand into a bucket of cinema popcorn. And we certainly missed licking a 99 ice cream as it melts, dripping down our fingers on a hot summer’s day. With nothing happening, the thought of food became everything, and our relationship drastically changed overnight.
With our cupboards fully stocked and too much time on our hands, we turned to our kitchens for comfort — and they didn’t disappoint. Food became our lifeline, hobby, and solace in these weird times. But, did anything universally change? Let’s find out …
Waste not, want not!
Before the pandemic, we were pretty wasteful. Although those who could afford it ate out whenever they could, data showed that 50–70% of all food waste in the UK actually came from our kitchens. With 6.6 million tonnes of leftovers being chucked away, we were wasting the equivalent of £500 per household each year.
Yet, even though our ‘lockdown-larders’ were filled to the brim with packs of pasta after our supermarket sweeps before restrictions were put in place, during the beginning of the pandemic, we started to ignore best-before, and use-by labels and only ate what we needed. We even learnt new tactics of keeping food for longer, such as freezing loaves of bread and cartons of milk to make sure we had enough ‘just in case’. And with 48% of Britons saying we’re throwing away less since the restrictions began, our relationship with food became less about indulgence and more about sustainability.
Sure, this could have been out of fear of food running out, but it also taught us a valuable lesson — you don’t need to overbuy and overeat to be happy. As we found new ways to use food in weird recipes that we googled to pass the time, our leftovers became sacred. Food is no longer something we can mindlessly chuck away, but something that can help sustain and nourish us while tasting absolutely delicious. Of course, we’ll still chuck out a mouldy loaf of bread, but maybe we’ll risk it with those eggs…
The wonkier, the better
Before the lockdown, all of our fruit and veg was pristine. Sure, it was probably unused and thrown away, but our spuds were Instagram worthy. While the supermarkets hand-selected vegetables that they deemed as ‘pristine’, 30% of ‘ugly’ but edible veg was binned in 2013.
Yet, as our supermarket shelves became sparse, we embraced the once unwanted veg. With sales of vegetable box schemes doubling during lockdown, we realised we shouldn’t judge food on its appearances, but on the nourishment, it gives us and how it makes us feel.
As well as buying more vegetables, we started growing them ourselves too! Not only has this helped us become more sustainable and eco-friendly, but the act of growing vegetables from plant pot to plate has helped us mentally. By satisfying a ‘nurturing instinct’, able to control the lives of plants while ours were thrown into chaos, looking after plants has helped to (try) and keep us sane in these unprecedented times.
Whether box-bought or homegrown, the value of good veg has become immeasurably greater. Valuing taste over appearances, we’re wasting less and eating more.
Baking bad — baking and home cooking on the rise
The worst thing about lockdown? We were stuck inside. With the hospitality industry closed, during our initial lockdown, we ate 352 million fewer meals out than we usually would. Turning to the kitchen and becoming our own chefs, we were forced to make food. And not just any old food — good food.
As we all spent way too much time trying to find flour in the supermarket to make banana bread, we went into a baking boom, spending our time making indulgent cakes and meals we usually wouldn’t have the time to make. With 27 million of us picking up our rolling pins, we honed our skills and took the time to make some of the food we missed.
With more time out of the office and more time to cook, we spent the extra time making magnificent meals and indulged. Without the fear of calories staring back at us on menus, we looked at what was homely, hearty, and healing. Looking after ourselves with comfort food (or healthy meals if you threw your exercise), we began eating better than before.
The Final Bite
As things begin to simmer in tiered restrictions, don’t let your passion for food cool down. Although food can be a source of anxiety, and some of us are still getting used to our corona curves after lockdown, never beat yourself up for eating an extra slice of cake. After lockdown, it’s important now more than ever to do the things that make you happy. If food is a source of comfort — indulge. Helping your mental health, trying to limit your food waste, and picking up new hobbies in your home such as baking will help you feel more normal as we enter the new normal.
Written by Alison Irlam
Alison is a writer with a keen interest in mental health and wellbeing. Since finishing a postgraduate degree in Creative Writing and having her own experiences with mental health, she has dedicated her time to helping and empowering others to make positive changes in their own lives.