While people have been brushing up on their culinary skills in lockdown, I have regressed. My friends in London started baking, my mother and sisters began marinating shish meat overnight as opposed to just throwing it on the grill. My WhatsApp groups became culinary reels of images from all over the world. I had a strong start, with a few obligatory loaves and even a whole tiramisu made from scratch. But as people were graduating from baker to pastry chef I began to develop a taste for the opposite of cooking – cheap processed fast food.
I don’t mean takeaway – I mean home "made" processed food. I went from fresh almond milk to either condensed or powdered long-life milk. From fresh veg to frozen, from a bowl of juicy melon once a day to a dark chocolate Kit Kat bar every evening. And from very few processed carbs to an Indomie noodle habit that became the anchor of my diet. I’m a relatively clean eater with no penchant at all for sweet or processed foods, and even in my new poor diet, still don’t crave anything other than three or four items which I consume in small portions in a sort of meditative ritualistic state. Overall, I probably now eat less than before – fewer specific meals, and definitely more solitary ones.
The road to self-improvement: strange and spontaneous
The same has been happening across other parts of life. I have renewed conversations with friends I have not seen or spoken to in years. I have thought randomly and deeply about random life events and traumas that have happened, and which I experienced, but clearly have not processed. I have searched out movies from childhood, even cartoons, which I watched in grainy bad quality on YouTube. Some of it, I am sure, is me trying to find comfort at a disorienting time, but some, I am beginning to realise, is my brain retracing steps and trying to fill in the blanks.
I had been feeling a bit underachieving for not using lockdown time for self-improvement – learning a new language or cooking skill or finally running 10K – but I think self-improvement happens in strange and spontaneous, unconscious ways. The pandemic continues to be a suspension of life. As it extends into unpredictable lengths, the way it’s configuring us mentally and thus tangibly in our real lives, is unfathomable. But this reconfiguration doesn’t have to be inchoate and involuntary; once we are attuned to it, we can channel it. I’m not sure yet what direction that takes us in, but what I am sure of is that it is an opportunity I will absolutely not waste.