April 24, 2020

There’s no question. This is bad. Our current struggle (even with a light at the end of this very long tunnel) is out of the realm of imagination for us. None of us, with the exception of missionaries and doctors who have worked with pandemics in other countries has the tools to navigate this. In the past, we watched with horror as films show pandemics decimating the human race. None of us expected to live in it for real. It’s a nightmare from which we can’t wake…not yet.

There are so many people out there using their voices to bring comfort, whether musicians creating impromptu online concerts to celebs posting funny videos about their self-isolation to chefs like me, posting videos to help with you simple healthy cooking, a new phenomenon for many Americans. There are workers and medical professionals, police and firefighters, grocery clerks and EMT’s in the trenches day in and day out, fighting for their and everyone else’s lives. 

The danger of this pandemic is real and if you choose to minimize it or go shopping for fun or to th beach or hairdresser because you can or host a party because you can get away with it, then you are part of the pandemic; the pandemic of arrogance, of not caring about others enough to minimize contact in defense of our collective, long term wellness.

That said, it’s not easy to create joy these days. For me, my refuge has always been the kitchen. It’s the only place I have ever felt really comfortable, really at home. It’s often the only place I feel like I belong. As I cook now, I think more than I normally do about the future.

I receive lots of questions about cooking, as our new normal has us in the kitchen preparing meals more than many of us ever have before. I’ve been making videos in my own kitchen to show you how I cook with tips on making life in the kitchen easier. But don’t ask me for quick cooking ideas, please. Not now, when time to cook is one thing we have in abundance. And if you’re thinking about life after the pandemic (please think that way for your sanity), I am living in the hope that you’ll have developed skills in and a passion for the kitchen that inspires you to keep cooking. I hope you realize as you cook well, with fresh, healthy ingredients, that you’re enhancing your body’s ability to fight infection.

Here’s the question I think about a lot as I cook: When this pandemic finally comes to an end; when we are all safely out of our houses, grateful to be alive, will we take the time to reassess…everything?

As a culture, we have become rabid consumers. We love inexpensive goods that we can buy lots of: from junk food and soda to cheaply made fashion. We love the latest phone, although our current phone does a fine job. We are enchanted by our ability to manifest whatever it is that we can dream. We have plundered the resources of our planet with abandon.

We overschedule ourselves, our families, our poor kids in the hope of…what exactly? What’s more important now as we live through this? A prestigious pre-school, boarding school or university or children who are healthy, happy and strong? Smart and grounded? Listen, ambition is good. I am ambitious and I have always had a great work ethic. I work hard and I love my work. I was raised in a big family where resources were stretched to ensure that everyone had something, but not everything. I was raised to know when I had enough and to be content with enough.

My ambition now is for my life’s work, my mission. It’s not about money or prestige. Trust me. It’s PBS not CBS. If I did what I do for the money, I would surely be in another line of work. But I am as rich as any billionaire in life satisfaction and fulfillment. And we have enough. Our bills are paid and we are safe (for now). That’s all I ever aspired to do with my life. Now I work to achieve my big dream of changing how people think about food, resulting in better choices and health…and that dream will never be satisfied, not as long as there’s one person who doesn’t see the impact of food on their wellness.

Now we are experiencing a reckoning. Mother Nature has had enough of us. She has warned us on so many occasions that she has gone hoarse with screaming. She is like the furious mother who sends her delinquent children to their rooms to think about what they have done.

I worry about us. Will we learn? For me, it’s pretty easy. I am not a shopper unless there’s something I need. You can tell from watching my videos: my sense of fashion is minimalistic on its best day. I wear black, a lot. It’s easy; you need only a few pieces to mix and match and as a chef, my clothes have always been working kitchen-centric. I don’t have an outfit for every day. I don’t change my handbag out for every outfit. I wear my workout clothes until they are falling off me. My husband and I agonize over every household purchase. Do we need this or want it? It’s a big difference.

But I am by no means noble. Trust me. There are rare days when I just want what I want (especially when I am in Italy). In pre-pandemic days, my husband and I traveled a lot for our business and I often asked myself if we were undoing all our un-consumer behavior each time we got on a plane. I hope to revive my travel business for so many reasons, not the least of which is that with travel, we make the world smaller and our cultural differences not that different after all.

I will say this. In my work, I am often busy. Very busy. But when this is over, I will never, ever be too busy to meet a beloved friend for a coffee or lunch or a walk or a chat. Like never…

My hope for our post-pandemic lives is simple. I hope that we emerge from this, faces turned toward the sun, wiser, more compassionate; more respectful of our planet and the toll our actions take on her. I hope that we are more loving to each other and that our differences mean nothing. I hope that we realize we are one people, one family, one heart, one soul. I hope we realize that what happens to one of us happens to us all and that cruelty…verbal, emotional or physical perpetuated on any sentient being will not be tolerated. I hope that we can figure out what is enough and be content when we have enough. I hope we extend our hands to those with less and help them. I hope we lift each other up instead of tear each other down.

It’s a lot to hope for I know, but as we say in Italian, speriamo: we hope.