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With COVID-19, home cooking may get its mojo back

These are unprecedented times for all of us. As the COVID-19 situation continues to evolve, and even knowing it will eventually end, we're all trying to figure out how to deal with our new reality.

Public health officials and political leaders in Canada have been outstanding thus far in their response to COVID-19. The media and reporters have been miracle workers, keeping the Canadian public well informed, even making some content open access. Thank goodness for them.

The not-so-graceful response has been panic buying. People have been emptying shelves, everywhere, irrationally. We are all complicated human beings and it’s hard to judge anyone since we are in unchartered waters. People manage anxiety and risks differently, and society will go through cycles of emotions, compulsions and foolishness.

With quarantines, cancellations, closures, and social distancing, home is, more than ever, the safest place to be. One positive thing coming out of this unfortunate episode could be increased time spent in the kitchen, a place in which fewer Canadians have spent time in recent years.

Evidence suggesting Canadians are spending less time in the kitchen is mounting, despite record cookbook sales. Canadians spend nearly $100 million on cookbooks and food-related literature every year, but sales of tools and appliances for cooking--spatulas, mixers, and cooking bowls--have dropped steadily every year over the last five years. In 2019, sales for appliances and other items normally used in private kitchens dropped by 2%. The average Canadian can now watch more than 250 hours of cooking or food related shows a week on television. Still, cooking is just a fantasy for a growing number of Canadians.

Time has been unkind to kitchens. In a recent survey by Dalhousie University, for people born before 1946, 95% ate meals prepared by parents or a caregiver at home when growing up. That percentage dropped significantly over the years. Millennials were not exposed to home cooked meals as much, and neither was Generation Z. About 64% of millennials regularly ate home-cooked meals when growing up, compared to 55% for Gen Z. The COVID-19 pandemic could potentially make younger generations more familiar with a space which seems like a fable to them.

More time at home can benefit us all. In that same survey conducted by Dalhousie University, 68.4% of Canadians said they would like to spend more time preparing food at home. With the current public safety measures, many will be getting their wish.

Buying and reading a cookbook is like watching a good movie. We can place ourselves into the story and imagine we can do things we never thought possible. Some cookbooks are masterpieces. However, most cookbooks are being used as coffee table books or regifted. COVID-19 could change this.

As we are forced to spend more time at home, and with provisions safely nestled in cupboards and freezers, the opportunity to revisit our kitchens daily has never been so good. Equipped with unread cookbooks and underused kitchen tools, Canadians can now see some action in the kitchen.

We will get through this by sticking together and listening to our competent public health officials. In the meantime, let’s dust off our cookbooks and get reacquainted with the one room that can truly be considered the heart of anyone’s home: the kitchen.

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