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COVID-19: The New Guest at The Table 

Christie Clements

“Food is our common ground, a universal experience.”

-James Beard

 

These days, it’s COVID-19 that is our common ground and universal experience (no offense, Mr. Beard). And it doesn’t just sit in the wings, waiting to strike; it has bled into all aspects of life. Heck, it’s even pulled up a seat at the table and is dining with us, affecting how, when, and why we eat. 

 

 

In a split second, I went from enjoying my meals in ever-bustling New York City, sharing full spreads of tastes and colors with my friends and family, to ordering for one in the solitude of my apartment. 

 

 

When the pandemic first started, I used food as my creative outlet. I joined the ranks of banana bread bakers and Dalgona coffee whippers and produced edible distractions that temporarily silenced the outside noise. I binged watched The Great British Baking Show and began feeling like Paul and Prue were old friends popping ‘round for tea. 

 

After a while, my creativity plateaued, and the monotony of pandemic life set in. The nostalgia for normal life was so intense I could taste it.  I missed intimate, warm gatherings at my friends’ cozy Brooklyn apartments; sampling a vast collection of family recipes and locally-produced additions, and washing it down with glasses of velvety red.  

 

 

Now that the world has opened up  since those ominous weeks in March and April, so has my willingness to get back into the public dining scene. I’ve taken to my usual favorites: Korean, Chinese, Thai, Mediterranean, and Japanese. While the food itself has stayed the same, restaurants have been forced to get creative with their outdoor setups. Between the heat lamps and insulated dining areas, it demonstrates the perseverance and adaptability of the industry.  Even in the midst of winter, New Yorkers sit outside, donned in parkas, hats and gloves to get a literal and figurative taste of life before Coronavirus. 

 

 

While access to my favorite foods hasn’t changed, the ritual around consuming it has. Eating solo or with my partner is the new normal; dining with any more than four people feels like a treat. The threat of safety now limits who we can and can’t eat with, and how far we can be from strangers, who are ultimately looking for the same experience. The pandemic has taught me to appreciate the gathering experience, sharing in the flavors, ambiance, and memories. It has taught me that it’s not about what is on your table but who is around it. 

 

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