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A Culinary Student Finds Hope in the Whirlwind of COVID-19

A bachelor student’s perspective at the Culinary Institute of America on how the food industry will adapt and change during and after the COVID-19 pandemic.

It has not been easy the past few months. Not easy at all. For anyone.

I remember receiving a call from my husband, another culinary student, on the day CIA closed. On externship, two hours away from the school, I had no idea what it must have felt like for him and the other students when they were told to evacuate campus by mid next week. My husband, panic-stricken and from Canada, felt the pressure and seriousness of the situation as he asked me to come home from externship early. We needed to evacuate together and not separately. From that point on, our world was different. No more kitchens, no more 11PM trips to Stop and Shop for ingredients, and no more CIA. It’s hard to believe this only happened two months ago. It’s hard to believe that at this time in March I still had a job and was still finishing up my fourth semester at CIA.

COVID-19 began sweeping across the U.S. in early March and continues to strike panic and fatigue into citizens worldwide as the quarantine grows longer and the desire to be done with solitude grows stronger. The two most social industries that citizens are missing most right now seem to be the hardest hit economically and the last to return to their former glory, the food and hospitality industries. According to the PEW Research Center, these two fields combined immediately dismissed 16% of the U.S. workforce in a matter of days. This approximates to being 25.2 million citizens. Among these people were many culinary and baking students from the Culinary Institute of America.

One student admitted to me she was quite shocked when she heard the school actually had to close. Many students at the institution thought the school was not capable of shutting down due to the numerous lab classes and the curriculums based on hands-on learning. Sadly though, students, professors, and chefs that day had to come to the realization that they would leave CIA that day and not be back for a while. Faculty left for home after class while students packed their bags and made phone calls in order to evacuate CIA quickly as requested by the institution.

After a few weeks into campus closure and quarantine isolation, the CIA officials began making announcements of hope to the students. The faculty and chefs were working tirelessly to develop online curriculum for as much of each academic and lab class as they could. Dean Walsh, the Dean of Culinary Arts at the school, told me how chefs and administration came together to figure out how much of each lab class could go online in order to minimize the time students would have to make up upon arrival back to campus.

The students, faculty, and administration now continue to grow in personal studies, school-related food academia, and anticipation as the June 15th start date approaches. Obstacles continue to try set this institution back, but somehow the community finds a way to adapt without setting any of the students behind in their studies. As they adapt to the ever-changing conditions of the pandemic, community members also search for means of sustainability within their local communities. Looking into how localization of food products and the reduction of carbon emissions could be key in finding self-sufficiency within global factions.

Chef Brian Kaywork of American Bounty advocates for this mission and has for years. He is optimistic that if data of carbon dioxide emission reductions and the benefits of supporting local economies is shown through the COVID-19 pandemic, people may begin to understand how food, diet, and being a good citizen are all connected. Out of this tragedy, hope blooms for the ever-pressing topic of sustainability in our food systems and the need for a wake-up call across the world. The CIA community is hoping that amidst this pandemic, a starting point for such a wake- up call may be realized.

The CIA is choosing to look at this pandemic through the lens of sustainability in food academia and production. How can we as a nation and as a world keep going and return “back to normal” after the largest catastrophic event in the world? We cannot. We must adapt with the current conditions and continue adapting to the changes that will most definitely follow. We will establish our new normal when the time is right and strive to make the future of our industries better than what they were in the past.

Katy Cassady is a Applied Food Studies student studying at the Culinary Institute of America at the Hyde Park campus

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