And our cultural omnivorousness means we’re free to choose something different every
day. So meals keep alive the notion of variety at a time when there is precious little, when
day succeeds day with placid verisimilitude, to adapt Harold Nicholson’s phrase from his
biography of George V: Different dishes bring colour, diversity, vim and vigour. They give
families something to plan, do, enjoy and discuss together.
People have always turned to food as a source of solace during periods of distress.
Cooking is an occupation, a declaration of liberty and solidarity, a comfort, an escape.
“When I am in trouble, eating is the only thing that consoles me. Indeed, when I am in
really great trouble, as any one who knows me intimately will tell you, I refuse everything
except food and drink” as Algernon Moncrieff says in The Important elf Being Ernest. Or,
as an Australian POW survivor of the Second World War put it more earthily ‘‘Venus
herself could have walked through the camp in the nudie. And we'd have all said to her,
can you cook? Have you got some food?”
It seems only natural, then, that food should also become the vehicle by which we can
express our admiration and support of those doctors, nurses, hospital workers and carers
in the forefront of the battle with Covid-19. Weekly clapping is something we have all
shared in, but food is something concrete that we can give, whether it’s a stew, a cake, a
sourdough loaf or a rhubarb crumble. Food carries a symbolic weight, a communal
message and a practical pleasure. It’s the one way we can continue to celebrate life and
share that celebration with others.
It’s a hard way to learn a lesson, and one we would never have wished for, but due to Covid-19, we may have finally woken up to
the realisation that food is important to our individual sense of well-being and our
collective national identity. 'Go thy way, eat thy bread with joy, and drink thy wine with a
merry heart,’ as the writer of Ecclesiastes put it.
Words by Matthew Fort. Images by Christopher Ower-Davis.