Back when all this nonsense was just getting started, I saw a tweet coining the term “Quarantine Cuisine.”  At first, I rolled my eyes at it, for a number of reasons.  At best, it was way too early for anyone to decipher any consistent trends coming out of people’s quarantine eating habits.  At worst, it perfectly encapsulated the attitude some Americans were approaching the crisis with, making it up as some cutesy fad that they’ve now grown bored with.  But now, enough time has passed for us to be able to truly grasp what makes up quarantine cuisine.

On one hand, we have what everyone’s posting on social media.  Homemade breads and pastries, slow cooked beans and lentils, and hand-whipped coffees and matchas.  All lavish examples of how staying at home doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice all the comforts you were used to in the before times.  And, in sort of the same vein but not as impressive to brag about on your socials is the uptick in takeout and delivery, if only to replace dining out.  

But there’s an even less glamorous side to the coin.  For every (former?) office worker who’s getting really into baking, there’s an essential worker getting really into microwave quesadillas.

Nowhere does it say that quarantine cuisine is haute cuisine.  The term “cuisine” means food that is typical, not necessarily the best of the best.

A lot of people have hit rock bottom, for a variety of reasons.  Whether it’s from the stress from constant risk of contracting the virus while working at “essential” (read: expendable) jobs, the anxieties (not to mention lack of cash) of being one of the 14.7% of unemployed Americans, or just the limited selections of what grocery stores haven’t run out of, a lot of people are turning to depression meals.  It can be anything- a slice of cheese slapped on a tortilla and microwaved, a syrupless toaster waffle eaten with your bare hands, or this… keto pizza? The key tenets of a depression meal are limited ingredients, simple (or no) cooking technique, and minimal desire to actually eat anything but reluctantly understanding your body needs some for sustenance.  

Some might say that depression meals don’t really count as quarantine cuisine since they predate the COVID-19 outbreak.  The term was coined at some point in 2019, although the concept definitely predates that. (I’m pretty sure at some point in high school I put leftover french fries on leftover pizza, covered it in cheese, and microwaved the whole mess.) And while there’s only been a slight uptick on social media of people posting their depression meals, that’s only because, by the nature of it, they aren’t something that’s meant to be shared. It’s a sign of pure exhaustion that millions of people are experiencing right now, so it’s only natural that they wouldn’t want to leave evidence of the small defeats necessary to get through the day. This article from the LA Times seems to be the only case of a major publication being brave enough to say “Damn bitch, we live like this.”

(That’s not to say, of course, that someone posting countless pictures of their bread on Instagram is a surefire sign that they’re neurotypical. It could even be argued that the constant need for gratification in the form of social media likes and comments in of itself is another symptom of mental illness.  Mental illnesses can manifest in different ways, and we’re all just trying to cope with this garbage fire of a world.)

In a sense, it’s one of the great struggles of anthropology.  It seems so commonplace and mundane that no one thinks it’s worthy of documentation.  Centuries from now, historians will look back and, with Instagram accounts of bread as their only reference, have no clue how the masses really ate.  

2 thoughts on “Quarantine Cuisine Isn’t As Cute As You Think It Is

  1. RJG says:

    Props for the cover image containing screens from (what I’m almost certain is) They Live.

    1. Riley Johnson says:

      Yup! Although once again I regret my choice of meme because it seems like this one’s also been co-opted by the alt right. Why must they ruin everything.

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