Barbican resident and owner of Short Eats gives her bitesize take on lockdown, life and food.
There’s a lot going on right now, isn’t there? This Covid/lockdown/pandemic period has set into motion a whole cacophony of chaos; destruction of global trade, record-breaking moves in stock markets, and the doom-and-gloom of recession. Yet, whilst those issues affect us all in a very real way, the majority of us are left feeling the ripples of Covid-19 in our simpler, everyday rituals. For some of us, that means having to go home after forgetting to bring a facemask to the shops (because now we have to carry those little Darth Vader costumes around with us wherever we go!). For others, it means being swab-tested every other week; even though we think its just a winter cold, it might just be the dreaded c-19 and we will be shunned like a leper from work or school unless we’ve been tested. Social outcasts. Yes, Covid has affected us all, but most poignant for me (and indeed all of you avid eaters out there), is the social aspect, which has affected the world of food forever.
During the first lockdown, we were all sanctioned to our homes. As restrictions started to ease- or we wandered outside for a top-up of toilet roll and other essentials, it was surreal to see the once busied streets of London cleared of all life. No cars, people, shops, or even benches around the Barbican. In the beginning, I could not fathom how we could function in a sustainable way for the length of time the government was suggesting. Surely we would all go mad? As time went on, I embraced my bohemian side- started home projects, working out (or least watched my little one exercise to Joe Wicks), and even further embraced my love for cooking by experimenting with new flavours and dishes. Truth be told, I might have always been a closet hermit because I grew to love lockdown life. My pregnant-self loved more time with my family, and as I grew in size, my husband was always home to forklift me up (true story). But here’s the thing, by week 5, I found my appetite waning. True, there were decidedly fewer choices of what to cook due to ingredients being limited, too far to get to, or just plain out of stock, but I soon realised that it was the social aspect that was the key missing ingredient.
Food is at the very centre of who I am; it’s at the centre of my business, and it’s the centre of my home. Going to visit our parents and sitting for hours on end at the dinner table is the norm. So for now, we had to forget running our Supper Clubs, we had to forget seeing our family, and we had to start relying on technology to digitally bind the fabric of our otherwise organic lives back together again. Now, don’t get me wrong, I love technology- I think FaceTime, Zoom and Skype saved us all during the lockdown- but for all of the ‘dinner Zooms’ and ‘digital-cook-a-long’ sessions we did, it came nowhere close to the real experience. There are just some things that aren’t that easy to simulate; spending time to prep and cook a meal, which will later be enjoyed by friends, or being able to pop in to see a neighbour and gossip over a hot cup of tea. I was even surprised by those little joys that were all of a sudden off limits- being able to grab a bite to eat when work had me too overloaded to sort out lunch or spontaneously able to decide what to eat for dinner rather than having to plan every meal a week or two in advance- I mean, where’s the adventure in that? But then it seemed we turned a corner, and the world stopped looking at what ‘used to be’ and started focusing on ‘what could be’. I’ll never forget this quote by Sir Winston Churchill “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts”. It’s so true- nothing lasts forever and we must endeavour to adapt. In fact, looking into it, some of the most successful companies have been born out of necessity. Airbnb, Groupon, and Square were all created during periods of economic recession. I might have quoted Churchill earlier, but Mr Willy Wonka was of a similar mind when he said, “Wanna change the world? There’s nothing to it!” Well, actually there is a lot to it, but perhaps what I’m getting at is that now is the time for pure imagination.
So, that’s just what we did. We pondered, planned and plunged. Yes, our food business Short Eats sadly had to postpone its Supper Clubs, events and Meal Kits, but from a deep need to feed and (turns out an addiction to) socialise around food, we began to think outside of the box…by putting our food ‘in’ the box. In April we launched our Ready Meals. With all of the financial, physical and emotional anguish we were all going through, it feels like we were all searching for a taste of comfort. How wonderful it was to learn that we weren’t alone in our journey. Somehow with every chop of a vegetable and stir of a pot, it made me feel connected and part of a bigger picture. I can only say a massive thank you to our loyal customers (and now, extended family). Socially distanced picnics? We’ve got you sorted. Monday night dinner? Just let us know how hungry you are! Come 2021 we plan to introduce some very exciting items to our offering- such as microwavable ready meals, private ‘rule of 6’ Supper Clubs and live cooking Masterclasses. I’m sitting here with a grin on my face, as I genuinely cannot wait!
As I write this last section, we are preparing for another one-month lockdown, and by the time this article is printed and circulated we will be preparing for Christmas and…who knows. This year has been educational, to say the least. We are all living through a historical moment. The big question we’re all asking is “will we survive this?” and after almost a year of this foodie-coaster, I can finally say, “YES!” We will prevail. There’s nothing that’s too bad to deal with after a cup of tea and crunch of a Bhaji.