As the country copes with a surge in COVID-19 cases, there is a visible shift in social media patterns. This time last year, people were sharing pictures and videos on baking sourdough and doing home bar takeovers, even as they participated in viral challenges like Dalgona coffee. However, this year, battered by the emotional and physical impact of the pandemic, even if people cook and eat for comfort, many are choosing not to share it on Instagram.
Lecturer Chandrasekhar Sarmah from Odisha points out: “I don’t want to be insensitive to people’s suffering. Last year I had close family members suffering from COVID-19, so I know the stress. I don’t want the people looking for help on social media to be fed with unnecessary information about my Ramzan menu. Even before lockdown, I stopped posting tempting food shots of Ramzan specialities so that viewers aren’t tempted to venture out.”
Of late, food shots or videos being shared are mostly related to food for COVID-19 patients under quarantine; with the hashtag #CookForCOVID being particularly active. Mumbai-based networking consultant Nina Mishra says it is important to keep people’s social media feeds free of unnecessary information like lunch or dinner spreads.
She says “A lot of people, young and old alike, are looking for suggestions on nutritious dishes, lockdown food supplies as well as medical help and other needs.” Nina came to know about home-cooked meals for her aged parents who were under home quarantine due to COVID-19.
Cuisine of catharsis
Mangaluru-based freelance writer Subha J Rao shares, “The rush for fancy recipes and Dalgona coffee passed me by during the first phase of COVID-19. I decided to begin cooking for convalescents and people under isolation because I felt they’d like homely food at a time when their stomachs are slightly delicate. When my husband was isolating at home in a different city, I was deeply appreciative of anyone who sent across a healthy meal to him.”
Subha continues, “I’ve done about 25 meals a day for about 20 days now, and don’t charge for it, thanks to donations from some friends. I send across a curry, sambar and rasam or a kootu, plus rice for those who can’t even cook rice for themselves. For some people, I sent breakfast and dinner too. There is no greater joy than having them call after recovery to tell you that when their sense of smell and taste got back, they really relished the food. Personally, cooking has been very therapeutic, because I box myself into a no-distraction zone and focus on just the task at hand.”
As India struggles with vaccine inadequacy and a rising number of deaths, cooking has become a stress-busting exercise. Homemaker Sarita Bhavani in Hyderabad is also on her apartment complex welfare society, coordinating water tanker visits, maintenance budgeting, and the inevitable inter-apartment politics during the pandemic.
“Preparing large-scale dishes such as rohu pulusu, rasmalai and chicken biryani is really therapeutic, because it has many methodical stages and requires patience amid the noise around us,” explains Sarita, “Many loved ones have been going through COVID and this is my way of counting my blessings and keeping my family healthy. Plus I love sharing with some close friends in the building because food wastage has been a huge problem during the pandemic,” she says.
Many homemakers and cooks are also getting busy cooking meals for entire families under quarantine, or for convalescents.
Mumbai-based Snigdha Dhar, a lawyer, volunteered to cook for her family members who tested positive. She says it is not easy to cook three meals a day for 12 to 15 people, “especially with no domestic help coming to work under COVID-19 protocols. Thankfully, delivery aggregators worked to hand over the food to the affected families. Also, with the lockdown, I don’t have to worry about work.”
There are others who indulged older couples with their food cravings. Software professional Sureka Simon in Hyderabad found herself making dahi vada for the first time as her neighbour expressed her desire for them as they chatted from across the corridor.
Sureka says, “It is all about doing what feels right to make people comfortable. My neighbour never forgets to send a portion of anything special that is made at her home. As her cook isn’t coming to work regularly , I felt I should do this to make her happy.” Sureka says some cooking and sharing in real life is much more satisfying than cooking to share on social media.
Nina opines that the seriousness of the situation makes everyone want to help in some way or the other. “Everyone is swinging into action in whatever way they can, especially with food which is a primary concern when under home quarantine.”
For Guwahati-based food consultant Sanjukta Das, cooking is not only a stress-buster, but also helps her cheer friends who are cooped up at home and are not excited at stepping into the kitchen. Some others are enjoying their cook-off sessions with friends or colleagues — just another excuse to connect in a crisis.