Web Exclusive #2: “Finding Comfort in Food Amidst COVID-19”

*For our recently published special issue, “Food in the Time of COVID-19”, we received more submissions than we could accommodate in the print version of the issue, so the following article forms part of a series of submissions which will be published as Web Exclusives which speak to the theme of Gastronomica 20.3.

By May Ting Beh

April 23, 2020: Penang, Malaysia

Amidst the tragedy of the COVID-19 pandemic, Malaysians are finding comfort in food. As I write this, Malaysia has entered its sixth week of social isolation, officially known as the Movement Control Order (MCO), which is an effort to curb the spreading of the COVID-19 pandemic. The MCO is a partial lockdown; only essential services such as health care, food, and the armed forces are still operational. People are only allowed to leave their houses, alone, for grocery runs within a ten kilometer radius from their addresses. Flouting the MCO is a punishable offense. In the Prime Minister’s speech on March 18, 2020 regarding the MCO, he advised Malaysians to only go out to buy food and other necessities only once or twice a week, or if possible, not to go out at all and rely on food deliveries (Prime Minister’s Office of Malaysia Official Website, 2020). This makes it important to plan one’s grocery list carefully when stocking up on food supplies. While there is no official policy on eating less food or using less ingredients, there has been an implicit expectation to only buy essential (food) needs, as Malaysians were told not to panic-buy. Pictures of people panic-buying and hoarding surfaced on social media at the beginning of the MCO and they were heavily criticized by viewers. In addition, standard operating procedures have been put in place for shoppers doing their grocery runs. Only a limited number of shoppers are allowed at any one time in the market or shops and they are only given a short period of time to gather their goods. Even with the latter condition, long queues are sighted every day at these places, which should discourage people from heading to the markets without the absolute need to replenish their food supplies. Due to these restrictions, it is expected that everyone will be more conscientious about the amount of food or ingredients they use to prepare their daily meals.

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