If the age-old saying, ‘you are what you eat’ is true, then under COVID-19 conditions, we are all possibly a ‘kichidi’ of the most unhealthy ingredients. Think crispy golden fries, creamy dalgona coffee, cheesy customised pizza, saucy homemade pasta, more sauce just to make the lockdown yummy, and once you’re done adjusting the belt on your tummy (who are we kidding, people are hardly wearing pants during this lockdown), we can move on to moist banana bread, yeasty sourdough and whatever other internet cooking challenges you may have bought into.
In a world where we only have access to essentials, and essentials include food, isn’t it obvious that the world would indulge gastronomically? The internet has been abuzz with many posts, photos and videos about the most aesthetically plated meals made at home, nudging others to replicate and plate the same recipe. New home chefs are emerging as a consequence of coronavirus. Men who’ve never entered the kitchen are cooking. Lifestyle channels, to indulge the need for fine-dining, are constantly scouring for restaurants that are open for take-away and delivery — even if said fine-dining now comes in tightly sealed plastic boxes and wooden cutlery. Sending dessert delivery is becoming the most popular gifting option of the season — a socially distant and acceptable sign of solidarity and support. Over all, this has been a rather scrumptious season.
Is it odd that we have tried so hard to replace the distaste we feel by feeding our taste buds? Eating to beat the blues is an age-old coping mechanism, one which has directly contributed to our waist’s growth and expansion strategy for almost two decades now. But suddenly, homemade cakes and cheesy bakes seem to be everyone’s go-to solution for dealing with lockdown blues. No matter what the problem, finding something exciting to eat seems like a suitable (and possibly only) solution.
While we have been staying at home to be safe and help others be safe, the world has revealed so many fractures with violence erupting, economies halting and so many people facing heartbreaking loss and starvation. Understanding world events as they are unfolding today has been a truly unsettling experience, which has left many people upset, confused, angry and navigating many unpleasant emotions.
As the death counts go up, we also hear stories of distant relatives and friends of friends who have lost loved ones, but cannot even travel to pay their last respects. We’ve heard of neighbours who’ve got laid off and families that are living under austerity. We see so much violence and pain in the news — protests in the US, bombings in Afghanistan and denial exacerbating the death toll in Brazil. It’s happening all around us, affecting us, and altering our realities. But, the best thing we can do is nothing.
We are crippled by the nature of this crisis. We cannot seek comfort in each other or solace in community and company. We need to stay at home, and our grief, in turn, has nowhere to go.
But as human beings, we are resilient. We adapt, we reinvent, we thrive. Only, we still have to do it from home. So we do Zoom dinner parties, and WhatsApp wine sessions. We seek online therapists and ask apps to teach us how to meditate. We socialise on social media and find new challenges to excite us. We march on with fervour, and while we repeatedly remind ourselves to adapt to the ‘new normal,’ what we are in fact doing is hoping, praying and waiting to ease back to normalcy as we knew it.
As human beings, we grapple with status quo bias, an emotional preference for things as they are. Any change to the status quo is seen as a loss, and given all the change we are forced to rapidly adapt to — to our personal lives, professional possibilities, physical space, and social engagements — we are left feeling a sense of loss. Only this loss is ubiquitous and the resultant grief is woven into our everyday life.
It is a difficult time for the mind, for everyone, all over the world. In recognising the mental costs associated with the lockdown, developed countries have designed response measures that ease the burden on mental health. In the UK, for example, lockdown measures were revised last month, despite having the highest death toll in the world following the US, to allow citizens to spend long hours in sunny open spaces, so that they do not feel too stifled and lonely as a result of the lockdown. Concerns for physical health were balanced against concerns for mental health because of Western values of liberty, healthcare capacity, and the needs of the most lonely and vulnerable.
India, as a developing country with resource scarcity and a large population that lives below the poverty line, cannot afford to factor in the mental health of its citizens when drawing up response measures. When physical health and sheer survival are at stake, emotional and mental health support for such a large and diverse population is not considered in government response measures. So we are left to fend for ourselves.
So we go back to adapting, reinventing, thriving, trying to find silver linings of this new normal. But in such a distressing time, doing all that while baking fragrant orange cakes is a satisfying indulgence. So we indulge — fluffy idlis and crispy dosas no longer make do, we need something that gives us heart clogging pleasure as we bite into it, even as we juggle working from home, dealing with our grief, confronting our anxieties and planning for an uncertain future.
But for all the change we are grappling with, three months of stress eating our way through the lockdown has got us all wondering if we also need to confront the worst change of all…. the wardrobe change. As our jeans hug our waist a little tighter and the stitches fray on our favourite shirts, we look a little jealously at people who exercise vigorously as a coping mechanism and wonder: as the world gets curiouser and curiouser, do we merely eat the idli or do we become the idli?