Age 11, my secret banking password was RoastBeef, so, yes, I would call myself a foodie. Age 21, I eat three square meals under lockdown, so I think I’m doing pretty well.
Eating for comfort is part of life. There are clear scientific links between food and mood – related to things like cortisol, serotonin and blood sugar – that I don’t fully understand. Terms like hangry, hangriest and hangrier are proper words, according to the OED. People, including myself, eat when they are stressed, when they are sad, or when they are just bored. I don’t know about you, but I am currently feeling these emotions, increased tenfold, all the time, every day.
So, do we turn to food to cope? In short, yes. And that’s totally fine and normal. Food is soothing. When I’m sick, I’ll have some chicken noodle soup (Jewish penicillin) and that will make me feel better. When I’m stressed, I’ll have some Chocolate Fingers and a chamomile tea to help me relax. When I’m feeling particularly low, I’ll eat ice cream and Doritos. And if that’s what I need, it’s okay.
In times of crisis, it is more important than ever to be kind to yourself. If you want to eat something, eat something. The world is falling apart, there are no rules – the limit does not exist! I am eating many, many Babybels and McVities Dark Chocolate Digestive Biscuits, but do I feel bad about it? No! I’m staying home! I’m in survival mode. If these are the resources I need to get through this crisis feeling somewhat okay, I’ll take them. Whether I physically need them is beside the point. It’s not just my body that’s going to get through this, it’s my brain as well, and I want to keep myself feeling as positive as possible. What’s important is that it’s not my only coping mechanism. I’m going on my daily walk around the garden, I’m watching some TV and I’m having my treats.
Food is helping me structure my day. I wake up, have a leisurely breakfast of some bagels or porridge with a cup of tea, and then check the news and bother my family. When I am feeing a bit peckish I will have a small snack – a snackette, if you will – of whatever I can scrounge from the fridge, then a late lunch, followed by some afternoon delight (what I call my second snacking session) and then the main event, dinner. I fit in my digesting and other activities around these.
Some days during term, when my mood was very low, I would make a very simple soup and eat it. It was a double whammy – not only did I make something, I got to enjoy eating it! The very ritual of cooking can be soothing, as well as the process of eating. My brother made some Chicken Marbella for our Pesach meal and some Matzah, the ‘bread of affliction’, which I devoured.
I am fortunate enough to live in a household where most days everyone can come together to eat dinner, an experience which, as it involves six loud and opinionated Jews, can often be loud and argumentative. Yet I am so grateful for this now, because eating together allows my family to connect and share their emotions and thoughts in a way that we otherwise wouldn’t at this time.
I’ve been to the supermarket three times since the lockdown to do The Big Shop, and each time, I’ve made sure to get a special treat for everyone. My little sister, for example, is obsessed with cheesecake, so when choosing our pudding, I made sure to include a cheesecake just for her – despite the rest of us being ambivalent towards it. One of my brothers loves apples and smelly cheese, and so I bought both. My dad loves pickles, and you can bet I got him some Mrs Elswood Haimisha Cucumbers (Kosher for Passover). My mother makes sure to get ‘scooby snacks’ for everyone to keep us motivated, particularly for my brother, who is working as a healthcare assistant in our local hospital.
Certainly, panic-buying food has been the coping mechanism of some, despite pleas from supermarkets that it is unnecessary. I must admit, my own mother, in a moment of weakness, bought a pack of 12 tins of chickpeas – in my family, that amounts to two tins each – and has yet to open one. At least if the lockdown continues beyond the next three weeks, rest assured we can make enough hummus to keep us going.