We’re well into week.... I’ve lost track of the weeks we’ve spent in circuit-breaker mode, which means that we’ve spent a significant number of them away from the direct contact of our friends and family. As such, most of us have turned to alternative ways to seek comfort and solace in. After all — no matter if you’re extroverted or introverted — we all have the need for contact, or to at least find enjoyment from our surroundings.
I’ve always had a loving relationship with food. Experimenting with new recipes, creating something new, or even just trying different food items: all of it brought me joy. That being said, I’ll admit that the circuit-breaker measures have taken a toll on my mental health too, and I found myself hating engagement with the one thing I’ve always loved: food. I didn’t want to cook, or even bother with eating anything that wasn’t more than what my body needed.
However, slowly, I’ve been recovering that relationship. I’ve started to find a new meaning in my hobby and what it signifies. And it’s not just me; my friends, too, have started to pick up old hobbies and have started re-discovering their passions. We’ve been bombarded with messages that all this time alone should equate to higher productivity, and I think it has left us all stressed out. But once we start to understand that it’s okay to indulge in things you like just for fun, and not for the results, it really changes your perspective. In fact, I think that even as we continue to get ready to start mingling with friends and colleagues, and working in physical work spaces, these are lessons we won’t forget. That it’s alright to indulge in activities that are simply there to distract us, or to help us grow, or to let us have fun.
That’s how my connection with food has gone. It used to be a reprieve hectic days, but turned to a chore over the past few weeks. When there is lesser of a distinction between the start and the end of a day, anything extra feels like a chore. Time drags and work drags and eventually you start feeling like a drag too. So, if you have been feeling like that or if you are feeling like that with something you thought you loved, it would be great if you could step back and take a look at your hobby from a different perspective.
For example, making food or trying new food used to be my designated “me-time”. It was a time I spent alone to bring myself calm and silence. Little did I realise that continuing to do this at a time when I was already distanced from people around me would make me feel worse — not better. But I’ve come to realise that there are ways to adapt cooking and eating and make it pleasant even during these times. And if you’re in the same position as me, maybe this would help you too.
Connect via Food: Within your family
For some, cooking has always been a family-process. For most, it’s a solo adventure where you either cook for just yourself or the people you’re living with. As such, I’ve found that cooking together helps you feel connected your family members if you cook together. Learning and figuring out a recipe together connects you in a way other activities aren’t able to. Even if you work in silence, you’re working together. Cooking together with your family members has the ability to ease tensions, or strengthen relations, or simply have fun with a member you hadn’t truly connected with in a long time.
I’ve started having food adventures with my younger brother, and it’s made me understand him in a way I hadn’t been able to before. As opposed to just being a half-parent to him, I’ve slowly started becoming his friend as well. When you’re learning with someone, age differences hardly matter, and cooking creates a level ground between family members. The process of giving and taking goes two ways, and it creates a more familiar and affectionate relationship between two people.
Connect via Food: Bonding with friends
Contrary to popular belief, bonding with friends over food is possible, even if you’re distanced!
My friends are coffee enthusiasts. I, on the other hand, am a tea fiend. That hasn’t stopped us from trying new blends and talking about them with each other. Every other week or so, we gather online and talk about the new tea leaves or coffee beans we’ve tried (amongst other topics, of course).
More than that, though, we’ve bonded over types of dishes we’re trying out or over recommending eateries and recipes to each other. One of my friend, for example, has taken up to making fresh pasta at home whenever she has the chance, and has intrigued a couple of us into wanting to give it a try. We’ve also tried to cook together online, gathering the ingredients ourselves and attempting the same dishes. Some of us don’t end up with the greatest results, but it’s the fun and bonding that matters.
Even if you or your friends can’t cook, there’s always eating together. With the rise of screen-sharing websites and applications, it’s incredibly easy to order in your favourite food and watch a movie with your friends at the same time. You could also just go without the movie and have a good chat over video calling applications.
Connect via Food: Connecting with new communities
Leaving friends and families aside, I’ve found myself discovering the coolest tricks and recipes online. Sites like YouTube and Reddit? My absolute saviours. Not only do they open you to a world of possibilities, they also connect you to people looking for the same things as you. Sites like Reddit are a haven for anyone needing anything from advice to recipes or to simply wanting to engage with people regarding ingredients and whatnot. Even if you’re living alone or can’t connect with the people around you, we’re living in a digitally advanced world where we can instantly relate with others available to us in a digitally constricted space.
Relish in the Process: Understanding yourself
Other than the food itself and the people it connected me to, the process of cooking, eating, or even ordering in new food items allowed me to orientate myself. I’ve mentioned that food used to be a form of escapism for me, until it became a chore, and the process of understanding why this happened helped me to figure out myself better. I think we’re all changing puzzles; we think we have ourselves figured out, and then we change — be it consciously or subconsciously — and then we have to figure ourselves out again. Rinse and repeat.
Unlearning and re-learning what cuisines and fares meant for me aided me in unlearning and re-learning about myself. It helped me understand that I needed an avenue to reach out to others. I used to think that I was okay being alone. And to an extent, I still appreciate being alone. It would still bring me a comfort that nothing else could bring. But, I also realised that like anyone else, I also missed the people that were close to me, and it had built up so much frustration within me that I struggled with stress and tension, and eventually it all spilt over to my lifestyle. It resulted in me not finding joy in anything, even things I supposedly loved the most, and once you fall into such a slump, it can be really difficult to get out.
Of course, the catalyst is different for everyone. Creativity and excitement can dull in different aspects; for me, it was food, for others, it could be anything from knitting to writing to painting. But what I want to say is that you should try to give yourself the space to redefine the things that matter in a different way. We may be creatures of habits, but we change. You may feel friction in re-construing the meaning of something, but even the roughest surfaces smooth out with friction.
I said a lot of this in the context of Covid-19, circuit breaker measures and the social distancing that’s in place. However, sooner or later, these measures will pass and we’ll be back to “normal”. Even then, though, all of the above doesn’t fall away. Everything that we’ve adapted ourselves to stay a part of us, be it as a stepping stone to another change or a permanent shift in ourselves. I lost and found my comfort in food, and I hope you can do the same. Be it finding comfort in food, or re-connecting with a hobby, or simply restructuring what an activity means to you, it would be heartening to know that you engaged in something. And even when we go back to our bustling lives full of human interactions, I wish for you to remember that these things can still remain. I’ve found myself “meeting” some of my friends more now than ever before, and I want to continue doing so. Maybe I was using physical distance to keep an emotional distance with friends, and I know now that it’s just an excuse. I want to keep exploring my hobbies and building myself through them solely for my sake. I know all too well that 2020 has been a year that many of us want to move on from; nonetheless, I hope there were some things that you found you cherished and managed to keep it as a part of yourself.