Quarantine Cuisine

by Laetitia Haddad '20

Meals bring people together. Cooking crams us into the kitchen to create, and dining out dishes out memories of laughter and daring new flavors. Despite our differences, food is the unifying factor found in the Thanksgiving spread, the Easter brunch, and the wedding reception, inviting us to come together as one. And so, in this sudden era of social distancing, have our eating habits and appetites adapted accordingly?

In a survey with 40 responses from Upper School students, 72% of participants reported that prior to quarantine, they would order food or eat out once or twice a week. Interestingly, 70% of students stated that they are still “dining out” by doing online delivery and curbside pickup from restaurants in their area. This is consistent with the number of students that would have usually eaten out once or twice a week.

Within Alexandria, over 50 restaurants and eating establishments are still open, providing take out and delivery options. The survey suggests that students are ordering from chains like Chipotle, Noodles, the Cheesecake Factory, and Panera as well as local businesses like Holy Cow, Del Ray Pizzeria, and Los Tios. Though the survey appears to indicate no definite shift in meals, Codie Campbell, a freshman, notes that her family “used to go out to eat more or at least stop somewhere like Chick-Fil-A for lunch or dinner, but now we eat at home every night. We’ve made more different meals than we normally would have.” 

Molly Gunn, also a freshman, comes from a family of six. Her meals have stayed pretty much the same, centering around, “something grilled like salmon, chicken, or steak”; although, her family has “been eating mostly frozen food” for a change. 

On the other hand, junior Sameer Augustine, finds that his family “started out with eating more fresh food because we wanted to finish it before it expired. After that, we mainly eat frozen foods.”

For Sylvie Weiman, a senior, the preparation of meals has changed alongside the difference in food being served. She remarks that “the distribution of cooking responsibilities has definitely shifted: now we all pitch in a little more to contribute something to meals.” 

Molly notes that she and her “sister… made dinner for our family last week.” With families stuck at home for the entire day, many students are finding that they can help out with meals in ways they previously couldn’t due to school and afternoon activities.  

At the grocery store, food shortages appear within both expected and unexpected departments. Codie remarks that her dad “has noticed a shortage of a lot of things like milk, cookie dough, and toilet paper,” while Molly was surprised to learn that Hoisin sauce was out of stock, as well. And yet, creativity can spring out of seemingly hopeless situations. Sylvie says that because “a lot of the products we normally buy are not available… we have had to be creative with what we can find!” 

Food is resilient in this sense — it is accepting of change, and able to adapt. Due to a perfect storm of boredom, hunger, and house confinement, 87.8% of survey participants have been cooking and baking more during quarantine. Kate Coward, a senior, started the Instagram account @saints_in_the_kitchen because she “wanted to do something easy that took people’s mind off of quarantine… I love seeing what my friends and teachers are making at home”. Feeling inspired herself, she states that although “baking is my thing, I thought I’d use all this time that quarantine has given us to start up cooking”. 

Some kitchen highlights from our Upper School community include a “water cake,” which is a cake without any dairy or eggs, a lot of pasta and cookies, mac and cheese pizza, as well as homemade onion rings. Codie has experimented with “a rainbow explosion cake and an Oreo icebox cake,” while Sylvie has tried making “handmade tortillas and avocado pesto pizza.” Kate thoroughly recommends a quick and easy stir fry that she made the other night — the recipe is available on @saints_in_the_kitchen!

To summarize the state of my own household, we’ve been through three loaves of banana bread, and we’re now experimenting with oatmeal banana muffins. Pasta and frozen veggies have featured a bit more, and leftovers are a staple. We take turns making dinner with whatever is available at the store, and have found ourselves enjoying long meals and shared company with no pressing deadlines, events, or outings to tear us away. Perhaps, mealtimes can withstand the pressures of this pandemic, and actually draw us closer as a result.