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Life at Duke during COVID-19 from a food lover's perspective

food for thought

<p>Duke Dining has put up plexiglass barriers on Marketplace tables, a move designed to provide more indoor seating as the weather gets colder and the time change approaches.&nbsp;</p>

Duke Dining has put up plexiglass barriers on Marketplace tables, a move designed to provide more indoor seating as the weather gets colder and the time change approaches. 

The past few weeks have been a whirlwind. Ironically, my personal chaos coincided with a physical whirlwind as Durham was nearly struck by a tornado. If this doesn’t sum up the past few weeks of the second semester of my freshman year at Duke, I don’t know what could.

Through all this discombobulation and stress, I felt as though the one thing I could rely on was the delicious food I could eat during meal times with friends. However, social dining ceased on March 13 when the Duke administration called for us to go into lockdown due to the extreme rise of COVID-19 cases. It was the same date a year ago that my high school announced that in-person classes would cease.

Since the beginning of February, it seemed as though one by one my friends were being plucked from their dorms and put into Jarvis —the COVID-19 student isolation dorm —- and this began to frighten me. As a passionate “foodie”, I could not imagine the disappearance of my taste buds and sense of smell. What would I have to write about? What would happen to my enjoyment of food? Luckily, as seen in my previous article, Duke student Alanna Peykar, has found a successful way to still somewhat enjoy her meals. However comforting that may be, I still did not want to lose my taste. As Duke publicized the increased COVID-19 numbers, I myself started to feel sick. It is hard to distinguish between psychosomatic symptoms and actual COVID-19 symptoms, but to play it safe, I clicked “Sore throat” on my SymMon app and was immediately directed to The Lodge. 

Part of me was excited that I was finally going to see the inside of this quarantine chamber for myself and truly judge the quality and variety of the snacks. I packed up a large brown suitcase that was definitely three times my size and was shuttled in Duke’s notorious black Mercedes Sprinter. If you could ask a Duke freshman about the one image that frightens them the most, I think the majority would say seeing the black van pull up in front of the Bell Tower dorm one too many times. Now I was the one sheepishly entering the black van: luckily for me, my double mask hid most of my blushing face as I passed by other freshman students who were completely aware of my fate. After a short ride, it was time to get tested. This was no three times around nose swab; this was the "legitimately up to the back of my brain and stay there for 15 seconds" type of nose swab. My fate was determined by a few particles on a long white stick waiting to be transported and categorized as either positive or negative. Two words that can alter the path of someone’s future. Until then, back in the van I went! 

Waving good-bye to Darryl, my “chauffeur” (as named by Duke Student Health), I trudged into my new home for what would be at least one or two days. As soon as I opened the door to the grey and eerily quiet building, I was hit with snack city central. On my right side, a wide array of teas were placed in a wooden box and by its side was a white container filled to the brim with different types of Swiss Miss hot chocolates (there were even little bags of mini marshmallows too — score!) On my left hand side, there were a few measly bags of Snickers and Chips Ahoy! surrounded by the largest amount of microwaveable soups and mac n’ cheese containers I had ever seen. But, to me, the jack-pot was the big glass refrigerator filled with large bottles of Smart Water. Yes, I said Smart Water. Now before you question my excitement, think about how nice it is to have a buffet of bougie water brands at your disposal. Goodbye to the Alspaugh metallic-tasting dorm water fountain, hello to luxury. 

Originally, there were no gluten-free snacks; however, after a simple request to accommodate my dietary restriction, Duke generously provided me with around 30 different allergy-free snack options as well as a gluten-free pizza from Mellow Mushroom. After a night of munching on some inedible “gluten-full snacks,” I received an alert from MyChart that my test results had been updated. My eyes focused on the powerful words: “Coronavirus (COVID-19) SARS-CoV-2 PCR Value Not Detected” which felt like they leapt from the screen and provided a congratulatory hug. As soon as I read those words, my sore throat and runny nose disappeared. I thought to myself: “Yay!  normalcy — well what has become normalcy — can resume again!” 

Less than a month later, Duke called for a lockdown. From midnight on March 14 to 9:00 a.m. March 22, Duke was under a “Shelter-In-Place” order, meaning that students could only leave their dorm for essentials, in-person classes were canceled, socializing was limited to three people outside six feet apart and (the most hard-hitting, in my opinion) meals had to be eaten alone. 

The most important type of communication is interpersonal face-to-face communication and that is something that I was not able to do over the lockdown. During lockdown, I realized the value of eating meals with others. I have immensely missed catching-up with my friends during lunch and dinner time. Although I tried to find new virtual ways to connect with friends during mealtimes, it had not gone according to plan.

On March 18 at 6:42 p.m., DukeALERT sent out a tornado warning for Duke’s main campus. Sirens rang through East Campus as students frantically ran from Marketplace to seek shelter in their dorm. I was about to walk to grab dinner when I realized that there was a more pressing event. Following the sirens, I shut my blinds, grabbed my laptop, my phone, a bottle of water, VitaminWater and a protein bar and ran into my closet. I had no idea how long I would have to take cover, and I did not want a grumbling stomach and a parched throat to be on my mind so I gathered some sustenance with my favorite snacks. 

To pass the time, my friend and I called each other from the protection of our closets and decided to share our screen to watch — well, you guessed it — a food video. I honestly have to admit that this was the most fun I have had during the lockdown: laughing with my friend, hiding in my closet during a tornado warning and watching food videos. Food really can make you forget about a natural disaster right outside your window and the fact that your dorm room would be smacked with a flying Alspaugh bench if the tornado were to touch down on the Main Quad. If this doesn’t show you the power of food, then I don’t know what does. 

Even though Zooming was a fine alternative for this situation, it did not replace the enjoyment of the in-person company of others while eating. Due to the shelter in place, I have appreciated that as students, some of the only relaxation and socialization necessary to fuel us for our rigorous academic and extracurricular schedule is through the meals we eat with friends. Even before the SIP, Duke made it very difficult for students to eat together on campus. Inside dining was prohibited and outside there weren’t enough tables outside for everyone who wanted to eat at a table with friends. In the world of virtual classes and masked interactions, it is so vital to be able to talk to someone over a meal to nourish one’s body as well as one’s soul.

Maddie Menkes is a Trinity first-year. Her weekly column "Food for Thought" centers on the culinary experiences of college students.  

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