In a world where our lives can so easily be corrupted by negativity and stress, it is the little deliciously salty, sweet and savory treats that brighten our day. As an individual who proudly calls herself a foodie, I center my schedule around my meals. Every morning I look forward to waking up and eating a s’mores flavored Quest Bar as it takes me from the walls of Duke campus to my childhood summers roasting marshmallows by the campfire. As someone who lives to eat, one of my greatest fears is losing the ability to taste all the wonderful flavors found in each morsel. This fear is no longer something so far removed from reality, as the COVID-19 pandemic touches more people in our society than one could have ever imagined.
Duke University freshman Alanna Peykar contracted COVID-19 last semester at Duke on Nov. 2, 2020. Although she was at first asymptomatic, Peykar developed symptoms during her time in isolation at the Jarvis Residence.
“My symptoms started off with a loss of smell,” Peykar said. “I was drinking orange juice in Jarvis when I realized that I couldn’t actually smell the orange flavor, but only that it was sweet.”
Peykar has been suffering from a loss of smell for three months, however, it has only subtly impacted her enjoyment of food.
“I am a huge foodie, so I tried to not let it get to me.” Peykar said. “Before I got COVID, I enjoyed eating all types of food and would focus on flavors in order to satisfy my sweet and salty cravings.”
When Peykar lost her sense of smell, she mentioned how it was more of an inconvenience and an annoyance than something that was debilitating to her enjoyment of eating.
“My loss of smell just made it harder for me to tell if my room smelled fresh or if a candle smelled nice,” Peykar said. She describes how she has to have her friends describe smells to her so she can envision them for herself.
Although Peykar was living with the inability to fully smell her surroundings, she was able to comfortably live with this disability. However, as time went, she wondered how long this lack of sense was going to last. On Feb. 3, 2021, Peykar, still suffering from a lack of smell, realized that she could no longer taste flavors of food.
It was her bite into a Marketplace cookie that catalyzed it all. Marketplace may not have the tastiest food, but it does not warrant the horrendous description that Peykar painted for me.
“I took one bite of a fresh chocolate chip cookie from Marketplace and it no joke tasted like gasoline,” Peykar said. A once delicious cookie had morphed into car ignition. “Burnt cooking oil wrapped around my taste buds. It was inedible.”
Peykar described a moment when she reached for her dried mangos. At first she thought there was something seriously wrong with the chef’s recipe for the day. After pulling apart the sugar-glazed and orange-coated dried mango, she took a bite.
“The dried mangos tasted just like my cookie.” Peykar said.
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I curiously asked Peykar if everything she now eats tastes like the “gasoline-coated” cookie.
“I love Sprout. It is one of my favorite restaurants on West Campus,” Peykar said.
An avid soy nugget eater, Peykar frequently bought them because of their juicy flavor and the delicious sauces that pair perfectly with them.
“Around a week ago, I ordered soy nuggets for dinner. I could barely swallow it.” Peykar said. The nuggets reminded her of burnt oil, like a bad fry “oozing out its overly fried insides.” No longer did food give Peykar any sort of satisfaction, but rather made her sick to her stomach.
“I was not able to eat for days and even one day I completely lost my appetite for the whole day,” Peykar said. Even though she was not hungry, she knew she had to eat so she just munched on little snacks, but had no motivation to eat a whole meal.
However, as of now, Peykar has found a new way to keep on snacking.
“Foods like apple chips, grapes and regular unsalted potato chips are the best food items to eat,” she said. Peykar does not actually taste the food she is eating but gains hunger for things that “feel nice” to chew. Foods that have a smoother or chewier quality, such as meat, are a turn-off.
“I was a big meat-eater before I got COVID because I loved the taste. But now because there is no taste, I focus on the feeling. And the texture quality of meat feels so strange.”
Over the past few weeks without taste, Peykar has become more comfortable with eating due to how the texture makes her feel rather than the taste. She is also aware that the flavor of gasoline is amplified in processed foods and tries to avoid situations which cause that uncomfortable flavor.
“It has taken me a while to feel comfortable eating foods that tasted like gasoline originally,” Peykar said. She is slowly adding foods such as the soy nuggets and Ginger + Soy’s poke bowl back into her diet. Who would have guessed that avocado and imitation crab could be so traumatizing?
“The first time I ate poke without my taste might have been the most vile experience I have ever had. The cabbage tasted as though it was oozing with gasoline, the spicy mayo did not taste spicy but my brain knew it was supposed to be so I felt the spiciness, the carrots were the only thing that was edible on the bowl and the kale was absolutely awful,” Peykar described.
After investigating how a pre-COVID foodie has dealt with her lack of taste, I have realized the important distinction between taste and feeling. No longer does Peykar eat things for the taste, but rather focuses on how each bite feels in her mouth. I challenge you to focus on the foods you eat and figure out for yourself what makes eating them gratifying for you: is it the sweet mayonnaise yet spicy sriracha flavor that exudes from the creamy layer of spicy mayo on top of your poke bowl? Or is it the crunch of the carrots that is the reason why you keep fishing more out of the bag?
Stay safe, healthy and keep on eating.