In the Age of Social Distancing, Food Still Connects Us

March 27, 2020 Updated: April 2, 2020

Recent days and weeks have brought disruption to the normal rhythm of our daily lives.

The infrastructure of our society, which thrives on social outings and gatherings, especially around food, has been turned on its head by the CCP virus, commonly known as novel coronavirus.

Most of us are finding ourselves housebound and uncertain about what the future holds. We are anxious about our health, our jobs, and our economy.

Certain family members of mine remember another time when life was uncertain and the future felt bleak. Much of my family was situated on the Channel Island of Jersey during World War II. The German occupation of the British Channel Islands during the war brought the islands six trying years, when food shortages and strict rations became the norm.

I recently spent a summer on the island, interviewing survivors as I researched the occupation for a novel. I was surprised, as I listened, to learn that so many of the memories that stuck from the war centered around food. Islanders talked about the ways that food shortages forced them to become creative in the kitchen, and about how they hid their pigs from the Germans to enjoy a secret hog roast with their friends.

Food, even in a time of hardship and war, served as a memory capsule, an avenue of connection, and a reminder that all was not lost.

We are not currently under a wartime occupation. But over these past few weeks, the way we eat and enjoy food has become limited. We are social distancing from the friends we’d normally share cocktails with. Grocery store shelves have been bare as buyers try to stock up for a quarantine. Dining in at a restaurant is currently not an option.

And yet, we are still finding ways to connect through food.

I reached out to some friends and family to find out how they’ve been interacting during this time of social distancing. For many of them, food has been an anchor, to their loved ones and the world around them.

Spending Time in the Kitchen With Family

“We have been making more food with our daughter and doing more from scratch, since we have the time,” said Katie Winjhamer, a mom of a toddler in Ohio.

Jori Slick, mom of two, has also been using cooking to pass the time: “I’ve been trying to include my toddler in baking and cooking, mostly as an activity to keep him engaged while we’re stuck at home.”

When they sit down to eat, she said, her toddler loves asking who made dinner, since the answer involves him. This time is a great opportunity to teach children about where food comes from and how it is made.

Many of my friends are engaging with food as a creative outlet, trying things in the kitchen they normally wouldn’t. My brother-in-law has started making homemade pasta and growing a vegetable garden from seeds, something he normally wouldn’t have the time or energy for.

My mom, a school nurse in New York, told me, “I actually feel like baking now as I have time for it, when I normally wouldn’t.”

Cooking for Others

Beyond our own home kitchens, sharing food with others has been a tangible way to spread cheer and support in a difficult time.

As Gretchen Malik, a mom in Virginia, said, “I’ve felt paralyzed because I’ve wanted to help others, but I know that staying home is key. I made two batches of cookies last night for our neighbor, a night shift nurse, to take to the hospital. She said they were gone in 15 minutes! It was something small, but it brought a lot of joy to me and made me feel like I was doing something helpful.”

Rachel Morehouse, a mom of two in Pennsylvania, has been making applesauce for friends who don’t feel well but say they don’t need anything.

“We drop it off on their porch with kid-drawn cards,” she said.

Several folks in my neighborhood have volunteered to shop for or deliver food to our elderly neighbors. I’ve seen friends offer on social media to grocery shop for anyone who needs help.

Offering food, even when we can’t offer our physical presence, is a way of showing people that we care.

Connecting Virtually

Some friends of mine are taking advantage of technology to connect virtually over food-based activities, such as sharing pictures of baked goods on a social media page or hopping onto a virtual happy hour.

Jenn Kern, a nurse in Pennsylvania, shared that she and her mom and cousins in three different states made the same cake recipe, and then posted pictures of the final product.

“It was fun for them, and cool for everyone else to watch,” she said. “Despite being far apart, you could feel the connection of the same cake being made and enjoyed.”

Jayna Grassel, an extrovert’s extrovert, is currently self-quarantined in Toronto. Still, she’s finding ways to connect with her friends over food and drink.

“Technology has allowed us to keep weekly traditions like girls’ wine night,” she said. She and her friends connect over a meeting on Zoom, a popular video conferencing platform, glasses in hand. “It’s not the same as being in person, but we’re able to see each other, show up in our sweatpants, and share laughs over drinks. Being intentional and socializing over drinks is a reminder that we’re not alone during these changing times.”

Slowing Down, Practicing Gratitude

Many of us are beginning to realize how much we took the act of sharing a meal for granted.

“I appreciate food now for the gift that it is,” my mom wrote to me. “I also think I took for granted the pleasure of conversation that happens when we eat together. [I’m] really looking forward to making meals for all my family and sitting around the dinner table together again. I will be so thankful for that day.”

How has this pandemic influenced food in my own home? Before I had children, I read a poem somewhere about teaching our children to talk about the way clementines taste, to help them slow down and notice life and food for the pleasures that they are. That was something I always meant to do, but never seemed to have time for.

Mothers know that there is always somewhere to go, a deadline to meet, a shoe to tie, or a house to get ready. I gave my children clementines on the go, in the car, on the way to the next thing.

Having to stay at home has freed me up from some of my other daily obligations, giving me more unhurried time with my children. The other day I found myself actually sitting at the table with my toddler, talking with her about clementines: their citrus sting, their sweetness, the way the juice sticks to our chins and fingers. Life and food are for noticing.

Now, more than ever, it’s important that we continue to connect around food and cooking, even—maybe especially—in this age of social distancing. I hope that years from now, when this is all over and we remember these trying times, we also remember the food. I hope we remember the way we used it to connect, to encourage each other, and to notice life for the gift that it is.

Editor’s note: The Epoch Times refers to the novel coronavirus, which causes the disease COVID-19, as the CCP virus because the Chinese Communist Party’s coverup and mismanagement allowed the virus to spread throughout China and create a global pandemic.

Rachael Dymski is an author, florist, and mom to two little girls. She is currently writing a novel about the German occupation of the Channel Islands and blogs on her website, RachaelDymski.com