Friday, April 3, 2020

Cooking in the Time of Corona

In these daunting times, as many of us shift between trying to make sense of everything and figuring out how to comfort ourselves, I found my biggest solace in the kitchen.

Ironically, I have barely cooked in my apartment over the past decade. If I tried really hard, I could probably recollect every single, non-professional meal I’ve made since I moved to Bombay in early 2011. In fact, I can literally count on my fingers the times I’ve cooked solely to feed myself. Contrary to what you might assume, this isn’t because cooking at the restaurant kitchen tires me out or makes me reluctant to participate in an activity I already do a lot of. Cooking for others - either for work or socially - brings me immense joy primarily because I get to feed people happiness, elevate their moods and perhaps leave them with a lasting memory.

Somehow, I’ve struggled with the notion of cooking for just myself though. It feels odd and depressing even though both my rational and emotional mind tells me how silly this worldview is. I’m fully aware of the importance of self-nourishment and to have this peculiar stance is clearly all kinds of wrong. Yes, I do have a strange relationship with food. 

However, in the midst of this global crisis and soon after I started isolating myself in my apartment, I overcame those psychological barriers spontaneously and rekindled my personal culinary prowess. I have been cooking incessantly, not from any specific recipes, but freestyling using my own instincts and whatever is available in my pantry and refrigerator. At a time like this when I have to fend for my stomach anyway but am also craving nourishment for my broken soul, being an expert at cooking feels like a blessed skill.

Covid-19 has put us all in unique predicaments we’ve never really had to deal with before. It’s going to be a while before we fully recover from this crisis even once the virus subsides. Perhaps the silver lining, if any, is that the situation we’re currently in is forcing us to examine our priorities, lifestyles and even our daily choices. Each one of us is having to make changes to cope both physically and mentally, whether we like it or not.

During this lockdown, with restaurants being closed, home delivery options being limited, and having so much time on our hands, our relationship with food seems to have changed drastically within the span of just a couple of weeks. Many of us are having to think hard about where our next meal comes from. We’re suddenly looking at cooking—a primitive human skill of using heat to transform ingredients into something wholesome—like we’ve never done before. While some of us have naturally steered towards cooking our own food, others don’t really have a choice. The chances are that we’re also trying to be frugal with our food expenses. 

Nevertheless, while navigating this new version of normalcy, cooking serves to at least briefly remind us of the good not-so-ol’ times. Cooking, as I’ve learnt to appreciate once again, is an intuitive act that not only feeds us but is also a great way to keep our minds busy. It is a great exercise in feeling productive, something we’re sure to be missing during these Covid times. 

Depending on the unique situation you’re currently in, you’ll need to adapt your approach towards food and cooking. Some of you may have large families to feed and need to be both smart and efficient with your meal plans, while for others in complete isolation like myself, the food we consume needs to supplement the void from not having another person around. If you fall in the lucky category of having someone cooking for you - like say a parent, spouse or sibling - making the effort to pitch in with the cooking duties and easing some of their workload in the kitchen will go a long way. Empathy and kindness is truly the need of the hour and it needs to begin at home. 

It’s safe to assume that for several of you, having no choice but to cook for yourself might just be one more reason for stress in your daily lives. It’s probably a good idea to at least attempt to embrace it. Sure, you’ll make mistakes, burn a bunch of things and probably be subjected to some pretty nasty food as you start out. But like a lot of other things, if you do give it some time, stay curious and persist, I promise that it will grow on you. Maybe, just maybe, you might end up creating something truly delicious, and when that happens you too will know how special it feels. After all, the only thing better than feeding someone else is being fed. In my case, feeding myself.