There’s no question that COVID-19 pandemic has changed how, where and what we eat, with new habits forming around restaurant visits (or lack of them), couch-side dining and online or curb side grocery shopping. The virus has carved swaths of destruction in lives lost, industries — especially restaurants and travel — decimated and shortages in the food supply chain that may take years, if not generations, to recover.
On an individual level, is it also possible that the effects of the pandemic will also have a lasting effect in terms of matters of taste?
In The Atlantic, staff writer Hannah Giorgis covers the rush of pandemic programming and its response to the democratization of food tastes in an article provocatively titled “Foodie Culture as We Know It Is Over”.
Just as Zoom meetings have loosened expectations of business demeanour due to overgrown haircuts and background house noises, so, too, have pandemic era programs shown the human side to celebrity chefs. From Jamie Oliver hiding out in a pantry from his children, cooking food in front of a camera held by his wife Jools, to Ina Garten giving in and making a whole-bottle massive Cosmopolitan, some of these faces behind the brands are allowing themselves some imperfections in a less than perfect world. “Food media during the pandemic have, sometimes surreally, seemed to abandon elitism in favor of a less ostentatious approach to cooking,” writes Giorgis. “These cultural products don’t just emphasize accessible ingredients and techniques. They also present an inclusive vision of foodie culture that’s refreshing all on its own, especially at a moment when audiences are craving programming that cares about their daily realities.”
As availability of ingredients have shaped our own cooking habits at home, our relationships with food have shifted. Some have turned to age old homesteading habits, baking sourdough and regrowing green onions, while others are relying more on takeout than ever before (granted, the luxury to work from home and order in groceries and delivery are privileges on their own). For every person lovingly naming their sourdough starter, there’s another trying to get through the day with other challenges brought on by the pandemic (sometimes, these are even the same person: stress baking is a real and popular past time). On the other hand, a cottage industry of articles indicating how the pandemic has exposed an inability or unwillingness to cook has sprung up, and use of meal kits both lavish and simple are on the rise.
In addition, the impressive dishes — the multi-day projects to share with guests and loved ones — ring a bit more hollow when made just for Instagram (even if we eat first with our eyes, the communal pleasure of a shared table can influence how we taste and the memories we make while eating).
Even before the social distancing measures were enacted, food trend lists have been topped year after year by comfort food for the last decade, and this trend may persist long into the future as we draw solace and sustenance in the simple, rather than the complexities of the unknown.