We’re looking for short essays on how Covid-19 is changing the way we eat

Our food choices are never just about food. And as we process the overwhelming changes around us, personal stories matter.

In the first rush of virus-era defiance, I assembled everything I needed for a complicated family dessert I usually make for my daughter’s birthday. Her birthday was five months ago, and we’re not about to throw a party these days, but I was going to make it anyhow. That was the point: I wanted to be transported to a time when we could share a meal without thinking about who touched that napkin or glass, or whether there’s a germ on the serving spoon. The birthday dessert would do that for us.

And then I decided not to. That dessert evokes the happiest of memories. I do not want to make one that will forever sit under a cloud: “Remember the year we sat six feet apart when we ate it?” 

I made a brisket instead, also the repository of some nice memories, but a far more practical choice. It’s sitting in the freezer in portion-size packages, because at the moment sustenance feels more urgent than celebration.

Our relationship to what we eat is never just about the food. (And in times of crisis, our choices feel especially fraught.) As people scramble to buy provisions, trying to ensure they have enough, I’ve been more focused on a different kind of scarcity: the human kind, the way the heartfelt aspect of a good meal has suddenly become dangerous. How do we compensate? I’ve been making dishes that comfort me, for a vicarious thrill until we’re back to more normal, genuine interactions.  

The Counter’s Covid-19 coverage will continue over the coming days and weeks. But we also want to know what you are up to. We’ve all got our own ways of processing the overwhelming changes around us, and personal stories matter.

That’s why we’re launching a series of short pieces on how Covid-19 is changing the way we eat. How has this ongoing public crisis affected you at mealtime, and how has your altered emotional, logistical, or financial landscape become visible through food? We invite you to tell us in a short essay ranging between 350 and 500 words. We’re looking for pieces that are deeply personal, evocative, and rooted in specifics of day-to-day life, and we’re paying a competitive per-word rate. Please send completed essays to [email protected]. If possible, please include a photograph that complements your piece (iPhone snapshots are fine). Of course, we won’t be able to run every submission, but we will give very rapid feedback.

We hope these stories make you feel less like a party of one–and help to sustain you as you wait to have new, better ones to tell. 

Karen Stabiner is The Counter's West Coast editor and the author of Generation Chef, about a young chef who opens his first restaurant. Karen teaches at the Columbia University graduate school of journalism; to learn more about her books and articles, visit karenstabiner.com.