Amid so much physical, emotional and economic pain, the COVID-19 pandemic may have done society a small service in readjusting our attitudes about what, and who, is important in our world.
Who, until the crisis hit, thought of people who check out your groceries or stock the shelves of food stores in the same breath as front-line health care workers – essential to our survival and heroic because they put themselves in danger to help keep us fed? Often-overlooked occupations like truck drivers who deliver food, workers in meat-packing plants or imported field workers on fruit and vegetable farms suddenly are getting attention for the vital role they play.
Most Canadians lived in a world of plenty to the point of taking our good fortune for granted and didn’t even think about how we got here.
Canadian society’s awaking consciousness reminds me of someone who grows a garden for the first time after buying food off the shelf their whole life. After never questioning how food grew, they suddenly learn the importance of soil – that it’s not just something that makes your clothes dirty.
They plant a seed and become aware of the miracle as a dry little dot swells and sprouts and becomes the beginnings of a plant. As that plant grows, they become aware of the many dangers it faces from disease, insects and marauding wildlife. Finally they harvest that lettuce or tomato and they feel a surprising pride in having grown this food from scratch – when, previously, they had just bought and used vegetables without thinking.
One of the shifts in society during this crisis that I find fascinating is the sudden attraction to baking bread among people who are working at home or homebound because their employers have shut down. To the best of my knowledge nobody suggested everyone should suddenly start baking bread (although there may have been a social media movement I don’t know about). At our house we only became aware of the phenomenon when there were sudden scarcities of flour and yeast and even powdered skim milk on store shelves.
Now baking bread is not the “sexiest” of cooking hobbies. If you’re as old as I am, you remember when hard-working farm wives were thrilled to be able to buy bread instead of baking their own (the expression “the greatest thing since sliced bread” really meant something to that generation). Even now I see columns by cooking “experts” who deride bread baking and urge people to explore more creative cooking.
Living in a land of plenty has led people to search farther and farther for the new and exotic. People seek out new restaurants featuring adventurous recipes from far-flung parts of the world. The search for the new experience also led to the boom in travel, which played its part in the rapid spread of COVID-19.
Ironically, while we’ve sought out authentic foods from elsewhere on the globe, including dishes of peasants and farmers, we’ve discounted the authentic foods of our own country as boring and not worth considering. The new interest in bread making and the demand for simple pastas over more exotic types, seems to indicate a renewed interest in simpler foods.
I’m hoping too, that this re-evaluation of what, and who is important, may also lead to the elevation of appreciation for the essential role farmers play. Plentitude and taking food for granted gave undue influence to critics of farmers, from the people who wanted to eliminate animal agriculture to the those who said farmers were ruining the environment.
I’m hoping, also, that the children of farmers will take new pride in what their families do. While farm kids should choose whatever jobs suit them, it would be great if more would make farming their first choice.◊