“Half of us are coming out of this quarantine as a master chef and the other half with a drinking problem. There is no in between.”

Learning to cook was never on my list of life skills to learn. I live in New York City where the restaurants and food scene is abundant; the price and convenience made home-cooking a bad investment of time and money.

But after I discovered the life changing magic of bringing my lunch to work, my relationship with food, time, and values has changed dramatically. Coupled with these strange times and my loss of income, I have been thinking differently about my consumption, and food is no exception.

With many businesses closed and restaurants with reduced operations, menus, and services, this is the time to be more self sufficient in meeting your own culinary desires and needs. Of course the best way to be more self sufficient is to control the amount of desires and types of need you have, but this isn’t that kind of article!

For me, I think about my favorite foods that bring me 80% of joy when I go out to eat. These include pizza, fries, croquettes, burgers, asian food… pretty much things that are not economical to make as a single person. (I am looking enviously at you – people with roommates and multi-individual households in quarantine together!) I take for granted that I used to be able to stroll into any neighborhood pizzeria, pay $4 or so for a slice of pizza with all my favorite toppings. Imagine trying to make pizza at home… (I know a lot of people are doing it! #pizza #bananabread) For me, trying to use active yeast and waiting for the dough to rise seems like a huge undertaking. Bread is so easy to buy! It seems so complicated to make.

At the same time, I have found myself looking through the internet for recipes and the easiest way to make some of my favorite dishes. Some of them are not that difficult, it is just the technique and the multi-layers of prep required. All that fried food we easily dismiss as being bad for us? Actually pretty complicated to do. Really any recipe that requires me to cook food more than once and in more than one way (i.e. Fries require first boiling, then deep frying) seems like a huge expenditure of effort. But time is in abundance and I have effort by the tankful, so I prepare the water for boiling and another pot for frying.

A productive pause is useful in this way – it allows us the time to re-examine our preconceptions about the life around us (in this case – food and food prep).

The past two weeks have been challenging as I try to structure my time and set personal goals for each day. We tend to feel a sense of accomplishment from the work we do by the end product or result. Successfully completing that work assignment makes us feel confident in our abilities. When paid work is no longer there, you have to look for other kinds of work that can give you that sense of fulfillment. This is where cooking can come in.

Cooking uses the same skill sets of any job. It requires you to research the best process, find and acquire the right resources, and combine just the right quantities in the right steps to get to a desired end result. Cooking with a recipe demonstrates you are able to follow directions. Maybe you don’t follow the recipe exactly, but even this demonstrates creative problem solving and the ability to adapt to situations. These are life skills most people have, and in this pause of normal life, we can still practice them through the many daily activities we can easily take for granted.

Being productive isn’t just about the work you do or the efforts in finding another job. Productivity is the action of creating something, practicing skills, and gaining experience.

“Productivity is the action of creating something, practicing skills, and gaining experience.”

The earlier quote about the drinking problem isn’t just a reference about alcohol dependency, but a dependency on something to help us pass this time. Mindlessly scrolling through social media or binge watching television shows are similar dependencies. We want an escape from the present moment. These are not productive activities if they do not align with your priorities; these scenarios place you as a passive recipient of entertainment. Drinking during these times – no matter how much people will argue that drinking relieves stress or is a social activity with all the virtual happy hours – is something I would really advise against over indulging. For myself, I just don’t do it.

What is it about spending time indoors and at home leads people to buy and consume copious amounts of alcohol? Why is getting shit-faced cool? I’ve gotten inquiries about my lack of drinking during video sessions with friends, and I always ask them in return, why are they drinking at all?

I still firmly believe that drinking, television, social media, and any activity that takes away your agency is not productive. (Although I will concede that learning how to make cocktails can be considered productive because there is a ‘create’ element similar to cooking. But if I had to choose between making food and making drinks, I would choose food every time.)

Whenever I successfully put a multi-ingredient, multi-method meal together, I feel a huge sense of accomplishment. The more I practice, the better and easier the next meal becomes.

What activities are you a passive recipient to? What non-work activities give you a sense of accomplishment? Who are you emerging from this quarantine as?