A Food Critic in Times of Crisis

By Sandy Bush

As I’ve talked about in the past, food is an important part of my life. I’ve cooked since I was a child, and I learned the basics at the elbow of my favorite cook ever: My mother. She taught me a lot about learning how to cook with what you had on hand; how to improvise a recipe if you lacked a specific ingredient, and how to make tasty, nutritious food without breaking the bank. And, the beauty of leftovers for a tasty, hot lunch the next day.

My love of all things food has caused some problems over the course of my life. For example, the ups and downs of the bathroom scale and a lifetime membership in Weight Watchers, now known as WW. Portion control is the bane of my existence, yet I embrace it like a pilgrimage. But, I digress.

On my mind this morning, is the disaster known as Covid-19, like everyone else. In an attempt to encourage others to cook, and use cooking as a creative experience, I posted my dinner menu on social media and shared what I prepare a few days a week. This has led to some surprising backlash. One person asked me, “Do you have a garden growing shrimp?” Uh, no. I removed them from my freezer. For anyone who’s curious, WW touts shrimp as a “zero point” food choice. Sautee them with some veggies, or a starch and you’ve got a relatively low calorie (and delicious) meal.

Others posted passive-aggressive comments regarding my posts and how it compares to meal prep they shared, insinuating a competition of sorts. Uh, no again. If what you post looks good, I’m happy to compliment you, or like your posted dish. If not, I’ll politely ignore it. The only person I compete with, ever, is me. I cook for my husband, and our family, because I love them, and I want to nurture them. Food brings people together, and bonds them. That’s what I’m trying to accomplish. During these unforeseen and unimaginable days of isolation and despair, performing small acts of kindness for people is all we have left.

Some friends have (jokingly?) stated I should stop posting my pictures because it’s making everyone who doesn’t cook look bad. Again, not my intention to make anyone feel inadequate. I don’t feel bad when you post pictures of your trips, or your dogs, or your sewing projects. I cheer for you and am happy for your success.

On the upside, I’ve had people reach out and ask for recipes, which I love to share. Others friends have posted entertaining suggestions for ingredients I should omit or add. Perfect! Even better, are the friends who share what they’re having for dinner. Believe me, I love a good grilled cheese and tomato soup as much as anyone. Show me your roast chicken, your juicy-rare steak, or your chili and it will get me thinking about when I’ll make it too.

Although I’ve fantasized forever about being the Next Phantom Diner (WITF’s (PBS) magazine food critic), chances are it won’t happen. But that doesn’t matter. What does matter is what I saw on national television today: Heartbreaking, long lines of cars waiting for donations from the food banks. The reality of this hit me like a ton of bricks, and I felt ashamed of myself for sharing the bounty of my table. Hunger in our country is real. It’s all around us.

I will not be sharing my recipes for a while. At least until this crisis is behind us. Instead I’ll put my energy and resources behind donating food to my local food bank, and doing what I can to keep this situation at bay in my hometown. Food for the soul.

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