The Post-Lockdown Chow Down

Something you may have noticed around you after the pandemic is the rising number of people (especially us, Gen Z) pledging to eat healthier and live a better lifestyle. Why the sudden change?

By Martyna Smoniewska | @martynastruth

Photo by Anna Shvets

In March of 2020, the first lockdown hit the UK. No one could leave the house unless it was essential and many of us were scared and confused. With countless restaurants and food places closing down due to having to stay inside and no one to run them, most of us, if not everyone, was forced to adjust what and when we eat. I mean, so much was changing around us that naturally this put us off our eating habits and had a negative effect on numerous people, but also a positive one on more people than you may expect…

According to the Food Standards Agency, during Covid-19, there was significant change in people’s diets, including more home cooking, healthier meals, but also more unhealthy snacking. At first glance this might be surprising. I have personally been surrounded by a lot of media that suggested takeouts being used very often as they were advertised more on TV and social media, and I was under the impression that people’s diets have changed for much worse. However, after looking into this myself and putting out a survey online with the title ‘Gen Z Lockdown Eating Habits’, I found out that a surprising 16.2% ate more healthy whilst 13.5% had similar diets before and after. It also came to my attention that 59.5% of people worked out during lockdown to try and keep healthy. So maybe, the overall diet impact wasn’t so bad on our generation as I thought.  Maybe the constant glamourisation of fast food in the media and break from routine was what motivated a lot of us to do better and eat healthier.

It is interesting to look at statistics such as the ones presented above because of the variety and impact in different countries. For example, according to a survey conducted by International Food Information Council (IFIC) in America, 85% of respondents reported eating more fast food during lockdown. Meanwhile in the UK, a 2020 study by the European Institute of Innovation and Technology found that there was a 33% increase in the consumption of fresh fruit, and 31% of fresh vegetables. A lot can be found online about both sides of the story. People eating healthy… unhealthy… or even the same as before lockdown. I think a reasonable conclusion to all these bits of information is that the pandemic was such a big hit to everyone, that each individual in the world reacted differently. And that’s okay. It’s something we as young people are learning from post-pandemic, and probably why so many of us are still trying to better ourselves, even now, three years after it all started.

Professor Anne Murcott of the Food Studies Centre at SOAS London is a leading expert in the history and sociology of food. She identifies two key factors behind our eating habits. “One is physiological, biological, but the other is social or cultural in that we have a certain style of eating at a certain time.” Usually, if you’re working or at school in the middle of the day, you’re used to buying lunch without even thinking about it, because that’s just what you would do. When suddenly, you weren’t able to do that anymore and you’d have to think about what to do to fill that time, whether it be eat something different or maybe skip that meal all together. Similarly to mornings where you’d be getting up at 7am to eat breakfast before you get on with your day, with no work or school you might’ve not been waking up that early and the usual time for breakfast would be skipped.  And because that would be the new norm, people developed new habits, whether they were good or bad, that stuck with them even post pandemic.

“One is physiological, biological, but the other is social or cultural in that we have a certain style of eating at a certain time.”

-Anne Murcott

When looking into eating habits during the pandemic, it’s good to dig deeper to try and find reasonable reasons for why our behaviour towards food has changed so much. “The question then is did lock down force people to become more aware of not being able to go out or not being able to see their friends or not being able to go to a club? Yes.” It made us aware of not only food habits changing but everything around us changing too, our whole lives and general routines. It’s no surprise that eating was something that caught up with it as well. We were kind of forced to rethink our whole lives, especially as teenagers. ‘I planned go out with So and So today! Oh wait… I can’t!’ ‘Hmm, my hair is greasy… school would be tomorrow, but we aren’t going in in person, I’ll just put it off another day, and another and another.’ ‘I’m hungry, let me pop down to the shop quick and buy some ingredients. Oh wait, I forgot it closes super early now.’ This was the new reality every day. And many of us struggled, our families struggled, neighbours, friends. So, because eating habits were a bigger part of our routines and every aspect of them got disrupted, I think it’s safe to say that next to mental health and loss of jobs… eating was the next big problem.

As lockdowns were lifted, people may have had different reactions to going back to their old eating habits. Some may have been eager to return to their previous routines, while others more cautious. Other people may have discovered new healthy eating habits and want to continue with them. It’s important to remember that it’s normal to have setbacks and slip ups. Many people found comfort in food during a stressful and uncertain time. Whether that was cooking or ordering in or snacking. I also think that because of this, we can still see the negative impact three years later. When I asked some of my friends whether they’re still working on their eating now, they all said yes.

In conclusion, a change of eating habits was unavoidable. More people’s diets have changed for the worse rather than better, that’s for sure, but now so many of those affected are trying to improve and it’s a visible thing all around us. Going to the gym and being active is seen so much more on social media now, and on TikTok there are endless Vegan recipes and workout tips being promoted. So? Are you looking to improve your eating habits again? Or have you already completed your journey?


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