Cooking in the Time of COVID-19

It is truly fascinating and scary to see how much our reality can change in the matter of a few weeks. For the most part things seem normal until you’re at the grocery store and you realize that you’re flinching every time someone coughs. Or when you’re chatting away with a neighbor in the elevator until you both realize that you’re in an enclosed space, breathing someone else’s air. It’s a strange feeling, being uneasy in the presence of other people.

The predictably abysmal response by our government to COVID-19 means that the best way for us to protect ourselves is to stay away from other people as much as possible. In my case this means working from home except when we have a shoot (at which point my food stylist and I will be working alone in the studio). Luckily we already had a remote shoot workflow in place for our clients which works great, so we’ll be able to continue working mostly as normal.

I started this post yesterday and already have had to revise most of it because even regular shoot days are subject to scrutiny since I am a food photographer and I work in a food studio. While we always try to minimize waste, the fact of the matter is that food photography requires us to purchase large amounts of food items, plus additional ingredients for flavor cues or to enhance the final photos. Unfortunately some of that food becomes inedible. This morning my food stylist and I were texting, and she said that she felt guilty buying food that would not be for human consumption when we are in a state of emergency. As the grocery stores empty out of the very products that have my photos on them, we have to examine whether or not the actual work of food photography is ethical.

On non-shoot days I’ll be working from my home studio instead of the big studio. The best laid plans, right? A few weeks ago I resurrected The Insatiable Lens and my Gourmet 10/76 project, only to have everything come screeching to a halt. Unfortunately social distancing and general food availability means that I won’t have as much freedom (physical and ethical) to source the ingredients needed to continue the Gourmet project. Unlike my commercial food photography, the food in the Gourmet project is meant for consumption, which means that if I can shoot some stuff for the project it won’t go to waste. In the course of my day to day cooking for me and my wife I may be able to make some of the recipes. For example yesterday I made Caldo Verde using leftover herbs and ingredients from a commercial shoot (recipe post coming soon). But I think I’ll leave the duck pate (which requires a whole duck, a pork roast, and and lamb should roast) until a time when I can share it with other people.

I have a few recipes that I’ve photographed but haven’t written up yet, but once those are done, the project will be on a bit of a hiatus. It could be kind of fun photographing and blogging about our quarantine cooking, but even that gets tricky – is it insensitive to be blogging about the things I can make because my spice rack runs deeper than most people? Or the fact that I have all the stuff needed to make good bread on hand?

My mental health has also been pretty interesting for me to watch. I go from periods of pure anxiety to periods of nonchalance and there is no rhyme or reason to how I’m going to feel at any given moment. This is in part because of how quickly things are moving. Here in St. Louis we don’t have very many reported cases … but the problem is that we aren’t testing very many people either, so there really is no way to tell if we have a problem or not. My wife is a scientist and studies infectious disease, and she believes that we absolutely have a problem, and that even if we don’t yet, we will.

As a result, I’ve been stocking up on essentials … just in case. I have to say that I do not enjoy the way that I feel going to a grocery store these days. Just the fact that I’m buying food specifically to stock up in case of a true quarantine situation really freaked me out. Usually I love food shopping, because it means that I’ll be cooking something delicious. But the grocery store (despite being semi-well-stocked this week) now represents a glimpse of a dark future. My mind starts imagining what those isles will look like, empty and dark, with nothing but vegan food left on the shelves.

In any case, since my wife and I are both going to be working from home for the near future, I’ll be cooking here in our own kitchen, and trying to see how creative I can get with a minimal amount of fresh ingredients and lots of pantry items. I’m seeing a lot of beans and rice in my future (both of which we happen to love). I make a good bean burger and my wife could honestly just live on those.

One fun part of my prepper-shopping was that one local store had blackberries on sale, so I bought a whole pile of them and when I got home I made blackberry jam. As we move into this next phase of the global pandemic, I don’t know what the future holds but I’ll be able to face it with jam.

Stay safe everyone.

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