Food is my friend (and foe)

Exploring how my experience with food has changed during quarantine


Graphic by Lillian Wang

During quarantine, I took up baking as a way to cure my sugar cravings.

Sarah Liu

I’ve had a sweet tooth for as long as I can remember. When I was little, I insisted on having dessert after every single meal. When my parents would encourage me to try different foods at buffet dinners, I would refuse and head straight for the dessert bar. Although I’m now better at containing my abnormal cravings for sweets, there are still times I catch myself almost drooling while fantasizing about sugary foods. 

During quarantine, with newfound time on my hands, I discovered a hobby that made me feel like I was doing something worthwhile and solved my craving issue –– baking! I loved baking, and although I wasn’t the best at cleaning up the messes I made in the kitchen (which my mom can attest to), I was ecstatic to have something to do so the days spent at home didn’t blur together. 

It wasn’t just the result of having something delicious to taste that made baking so appealing. Rather, I enjoyed the process of prepping ingredients, of making a mess while mixing and inhaling the aroma of freshly baked goods. Sometimes, I would pull out an oven tray expecting to find soft snickerdoodle cookies only to stare in dismay at a burning pile of … soup. But when I baked, I had fun experimenting (and oftentimes failing), simply because I enjoyed it.

However, like many others, I turned to social media as an outlet of entertainment with the extra time I had during quarantine, often spending hours mindlessly scrolling through random posts. Healthy food recipes from “trendy” bloggers popped up on my Instagram page left and right. The keto salads and “no-carb” meals made me feel strangely ashamed of my own not-so-healthy recipes. In turn, I stopped baking and tried to follow a diet that included more healthy foods. Before spending a year alone, I had never felt self-conscious about what I ate around other people. But I began to feel guilty every time I took a bite out of my freshly baked snickerdoodles. Every night, I would spend a long, long time looking in the mirror to see how much I’d bloated. Even today, I’m still not sure why I was so desperate to maintain a certain — and quite frankly, unrealistic — image of myself when there was no one else around. It was like I had changed my passion into hate for a hobby I used to love. 

I decided to completely remake my recipe list, replacing chocolate chip cookies with granola rolls and potato chips with kale chips –– I even tried to convince myself the two foods tasted alike! I started eating avocado and eggs with whole-grain toast every single morning, and while I despised how the mushy avocado made both the egg and the bread soggy, I wanted to believe that changing my diet would make me happier. 

Graphic by Sarah Liu

And these changes did make me happier — for a few hours, at least. I would ignore my rumbling stomach while eating a salad for the third time that week so that I could feel satisfied with the way I looked after the meal. But late-night cravings would lead to devouring an entire bag of chips, translating into overwhelming feelings of guilt afterward. 

It took me a few months to truly realize the importance of food in my life. Food is my connection to various memories, both good and bad. When I was eight, I was helping my dad crack eggs for breakfast because I wanted to spend more time with him. When I was 11, I was excitedly trying (and admittedly failing) new recipes every day. At 14, I was crying because I didn’t want to eat dinner but the fried rice my dad made smelled too good and now I didn’t want to look at myself in the mirror. At 15, I’m laughing while teaching my sister how to whisk eggs to add to the cake batter. 

All these memories share a common theme: I am the happiest when eating foods I love, and it took me much longer than it should have to realize this. 

While it’d be nice to say that my experience was just a phase during the pandemic, I never “got over it” or completely stopped having these thoughts. There are still nights where I go and grab a late-night cookie only to feel guilty afterward. And there are still days when I shy away from looking in the mirror in the morning because I don’t know if I’ll like what I see. But I’m getting better at recognizing these negative thoughts and replacing them with compassion. I can’t help if I subconsciously judge myself, but I can actively work to change my perspective.

After all, if I can forgive myself for making soup out of cookies, eating a few sweets isn’t a big deal.