In times of crisis, it can be an instinctive response to turn to food. After all, ice-cream's comforting properties are well documented, and pasta is said to soothe the soul.
But food has taken on a heightened visibility in recent weeks. As the country became aware of the implications of the coronavirus outbreak, we saw a rash of stockpiling which left shelves bare and tinned tomatoes a rare commodity. Going to buy food is now one of the few acceptable reasons to leave the house, and trips to supermarkets are carefully planned operations. With more time spent at home, and an inability to eat out, many have more time (and in some cases, a considerable need) to practice their cooking skills. For others, just accessing food has become a challenge, due to financial difficulties or personal vulnerability.
It is no wonder then, that much of the charitable response to the covid-19 outbreak has been focused on food. Many charities and non-profits have mobilised to deliver food packages to those who need them most, including at risk individuals and NHS staff. They have been joined in this by businesses working with co-ordinating organisations, such as Food4Heroes, or by running their own efforts - Deliveroo, for example, has raised more than £1.5 million to fund free deliveries to NHS workers. Supermarkets have also been among the biggest donors to charities responding to the outbreak, lending particular support to foodbanks.
But charities are also beginning to take advantage of our locked-down willingness to make gastronomic experiments; using our fascination with food to both fundraise and raise their profiles. In particular, they seem to be tapping into a trend for online cooking demonstrations, which have mushroomed in popularity since lockdown began. Some have partnered with restaurants and chefs, who are sharing their secrets in return for donations. English Heritage has found that its educational historical cooking series has gained more than two million views since mid-March. Even Battersea, the animal rescue charity, has joined in: if you have ever wanted to learn how to bake your cat a birthday cake, now is your chance.
The charities sector has been hit hard by the coronavirus outbreak, with billions of pounds in funding expected to have been lost by mid-June. At a time when charities have had their ability to interact with the public severely restricted, it is heartening to see that they are actively using food for thought: not only to ensure those in need are remembered, but to ensure that the causes they support are not forgotten.
English Heritage’s online historical cooking demonstrations, one of a number of online cookery programmes that have attracted huge interest in the last few weeks