Food for Thought: COVID-19 Reflections

Of the many ways Covid has made our relationship with the world more complicated, none is more constant than the way we think about our food.  We want to eat, in a way that brings sustenance and pleasure with minimal risk and the spectrum of normal food habits, in our pre-Covid lives was very broad. Now that we have had time to consider our feelings about UberEats vs baking bread, it may be prudent to implement a regime to optimize our health potential and try to support one another.

An overview of some recent changes, to our personal food gathering, will hopefully offer a positive direction, to lead future decisions. Food habits, in the pre-Covid times, may have been shaped by convenience and indulgence. Many of our ‘old ways’ were not healthy as evidenced by our lifestyle diseases, such as metabolic syndrome and the obesity epidemic, contributing to chronic health issues like Type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and colorectal cancer. Not to mention the enormous amount of single use plastic waste we generate from convenience foods and the food service industry. These may be two good reasons to reassess, was normal really optimal?

Shopping for food at grocery stores has changed.  From lineups to enter the store, a multitude of signage, directional arrows and the plexiglass all remind us that shopping requires awareness, should be done alone and if possible, at non peak times.  Some stores were offering seniors hours as an added amenity.  Grocery delivery and curbside pickup required a level of technical savvy that was a challenge to some and an asset to many. Apart from produce and perishables, which people like to pick out on their own, these services can be very helpful.  A throwback to 40 years ago, when green grocers and butchers had an urban market share for weekly shopping and the dry goods were purchased in bulk, less frequently.  May be a consideration as the horizon stretches out.  

As Phase 1 of the Provincial opening, farmers markets were allowed to open, which was excellent but the plight of the migrant workers that farmers depend on, was  a source of numerous issues from Covid safety to workers’ rights, those issues will need to be dealt with, since these skilled workers are essential to the ability to produce and harvest food locally.

The early part of lockdown saw an increase in the consumption of overly processed food and comfort eating by some, leading to the Covid 8.6 kg weight gain.  Cooking at home was somewhere between a novelty and a necessity.  The abundance of time, for some,  gave way to the baking phenomena resulting in shortages of flour, yeast, and eggs.  People were seeing food as finite and meal planning at home emerged, based on what was available and what needed to be used up.  Home meal preparation does not need to be complicated. Simple, unprocessed items identified in Canada’s Food Guide as vegetable and fruit, whole grains and proteins should be the staples, prepared in ways that are manageable.  

Covid has forced our relationship with retail food services from an, anywhere, anytime, to a homebody economy and retailers who can rebound, reboot, and reinvent according to Nielsen, may be better suited to hold a bigger segment of the market share. So, what do customers value? People want to make purchases that will boost their local economy. Local brands were identified as an accelerator for decision making, as was food that had a healthy, potentially protective, or immune enhancing property.  The Food Retail Environment Study for Health and Economic Resiliency (FRESHER), at UWO “is a pilot study of the effects of COVID-19 on restaurants, fast food outlets, grocery stores, cafes, bars, pubs, and alcohol retail stores in Ontario, across all types of communities”. Using interviews and surveys they will be able to influence policies going forward.  

So where do we go from here?  Shop wisely, using all the public health guidelines related to reducing droplet transmission.  Respect and embrace the simple domestic art of home meal preparation, using locally sourced ingredients, where possible and meal plan to avoid waste.  Consider how you can help support a local business, while minimizing extra plastic waste.  Where restaurants have had some benefit with outdoor patios, this will not be the case in the coming months and it will be difficult to serve on site, possibly making takeout more favorable.  Above all, we must continue to be vigilant and stay well, self-care through excellent nutrition is a good place to start.  Winter is coming and once again, the times are changing.


About the author: Susan Smith is a volunteer at the MLFPC with long-standing expertise in nutrition. She graduated from UWO, Brescia University College in 1995 and has been a clinical dietitian at the London Health Science Center for almost 25 years! Susan has a keen interest in sustainable food systems that create a harmonious urban-rural relationship with a focus on community health and a minimal carbon footprint. 

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