Eating Differently in a Pandemic

April 13, 2018

The most recent issue of AARP Magazine (August/September 2020) featured an article by Ruth Reichl entitled “The Changing American Table.” In it she discusses how food tastes, the taste of food, shopping habits, and eating habits have changed over the last 50 years. It is a fascinating look at the major events and trends that helped to define American cuisine. Here is the link: https://www.aarp.org/health/healthy-living/info-2020/changing-food-trends.html.

What was most intriguing was her take on the effect that the COVID-19 Pandemic has had in the last 6 months. The pandemic disrupted (and still does) our food chain. Packing plants became COVID-19 hot spots, restaurants shut down (some temporarily, others permanently), some food went to waste, and other food simply wasn’t produced. For many Americans, it was the first time that we actually began to fathom all the steps that take place from the farm or sea to our tables.

Americans (you should pardon the expression) are a little late coming to the table on this one. Judaism has always emphasized an appreciation of food–what we may or may not eat, how it is prepared, and how it must be sanctified through blessings before and after the meal. An observant Jew at each meal is reminded through all these steps exactly where the food came from…and the many miracles that accompany its journey to our stomachs.

Reichl noted that during this pandemic many people turned their attention back to the sources. People planted gardens and grew vegetables. Others began cooking and baking from scratch. Many in rural areas did what the norm was a half century ago and went straight to the farm to purchase produce and meat. If there may be one silver lining to COVID-19, it is that it reconnected us to an awareness of the sources of our food…and to the fragility of the system.

Personally, I have been a cook and bake from scratch kind of guy (although not exclusively) for a long time. There are still a lot of processed foods in my diet. Even so, during the last several months, I have found myself trying to go back to the basics. We even planted some basil, tomatoes, peppers, parsley and cilantro!

Whether COVID-19 will have a long term impact on how we view the food we eat is unknown. Certainly there are encouraging signs that we will think more about where our food comes from. On the other hand, we know that many of us have put on a few pounds, simply because we are sitting at home more surrounded by food and because our gyms and other ways in which we are active are not as accessible.

My hope is that our society will learn from the Jewish approach to food. It is a blessing and it is to be enjoyed–but always in the right context and as a way to fuel the human body (not destroy it). A good lesson for a pandemic…and afterwards too!