Why Islanders are baking and cooking their way through the COVID-19 pandemic

Life is undeniably different these days: our shopping trips are infrequent, there’s rationing on some grocery store items, and many are left with more time than usual to experiment in the kitchen. 

‘This has been a wake-up call of how convenient our food supply was’

'We do kind of have to shift how we feed ourselves and really reconnect to our foods and baked goods in ways that are more sustainable at the household level,' says PhD candidate Sarah Duignan, whose research focuses on the anthropology of health. (Josee St-Onge/CBC)

You've seen the images everywhere on social media: glistening pans of rolls, cakes with handmade messages of encouragement and support, pan upon pan of fresh cookies and many, many loaves of golden bread cooling on racks. 

McMaster University PhD candidate Sarah Duignan says she hopes this new connection and appreciation people have built with their food will last beyond the pandemic. 

"If we're thinking about sustainable food futures, especially with climate change, we really do have to shift how we feed ourselves and how we think about food security," Duignan told Laura Chapin with CBC Radio: Island Morning

Officials are encouraging less-frequent shopping trips, and some grocery stores are rationing supplies of things like sugar and milk. Jobs and social lives put on hold mean some people have more time than usual, and many are using that time to experiment in the kitchen. 

A lot of people take to baking out of comfort.— Sarah Duignan

"Reducing our food waste, using food and food items a little bit more creatively … being a bit scrappier with our food, can lead to some really interesting meals and also lead to, you know, a much more sustainable and healthy kind of approach to food going forward."

Duignan is the host of AnthroDish, a weekly podcast about food, culture and identity. Her PhD research focuses on the anthropology of health, specifically looking at the ways the environment and climate change affect people physically, socially and emotionally.

Increasing access and sustainability

Duignan said it's interesting to see how people think about their connection to the kitchen in this time of stress and uncertainty, and that comes through in what they buy and how they choose to buy it. 

"In these early panic-buying shifts, people weren't sure if grocery stores were necessarily going to stay open or what was going to happen, so you see them kind of buying almost apocalyptic-style goods," she said.

"We saw a lot of people buying up pulses, canned beans, canned vegetables, things that will last for a very long time.

Some grocery stores have been rationing items like milk and, in this case, sugar. (Sara Fraser/CBC)

"A lot of frozen pizzas being purchased and less so, foods that they could just cook within two-week periods, as government has kind of been suggesting."

Duignan said the concept of rationing food is not new to Canada, though many may be too young to remember the Second World War.

She said though it makes many people uncomfortable, it's not all bad — when stores ration foods that are in high demand, it allows everyone a greater chance of getting what they need.

'Shift how we feed ourselves'

As for the COVID-19 baking phenomenon, which has recently seen store shelves emptied of flour, sugar, yeast and other baking essentials, Duignan sees the patterns and has a few explanations.

Islander Darlene Sherren Bulger shows off banana chocolate chip loaf and a batch of cinnamon rolls she made recently. (Darlene Sherren)

"A lot of people take to baking out of comfort. It brings up, you know, familiar feelings around holidays or spending time with family," she said.

Another possible explanation: procrastination and distraction.

"We do kind of have to shift how we feed ourselves and really reconnect to our foods and baked goods in ways that are more sustainable at the household level than you know, again, running out to the grocery store every couple of days to buy a loaf of bread," said Duignan. 

Ultimately, she's is optimistic people will take some new, healthy learnings out of this shift in how we see our food.

Sarah Duignan's podcast explores the connections between food, culture, and identity using an anthropological lens. (Ash Nayler)

"This has been a wake-up call of how convenient our food supply was," she said.

"Food is always something that brings everyone to the table and allows you to have conversations with your family members or with other folks.

"I think that's really beautiful and I think it'll kind of spur a lot of deeper relationships with our food and also with each other."

More from CBC P.E.I.

With files from Island Morning


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