Americans Have Rediscovered Self-Reliance
When state and local governments first issued pandemic lockdown orders as part of their efforts to slow the spread of COVID-19—or to stop it in its tracks, depending on the particular finger-wagging official—pundits debated whether supposedly individualistic Americans would knuckle under. As it turns out, many people initially obeyed, but a lot of us quickly got fed up as restrictions killed jobs and smothered social interactions. If anything, pandemic restrictions fed oxygen to the embers of the individualist, anti-authoritarian tradition. Likewise, the lockdowns have fueled old habits of self-reliance, prompting Americans to relearn skills and revive almost-forgotten habits in ways that, for better or worse, may shape the future.
Cooking at home was the first skill to gain new life in a nation that had become increasingly accustomed to take-out, fast food, and sit-down restaurant meals.
“Until recently, learning how to cook, or learning how to cook better, as an adult was considered an aspirational skill akin to learning how to ski—could be nice, might be fun, but would be daunting and could come with potentially expensive start-up costs,” the Washington Post noted in March.
With restaurants closed and budgets squeezed during the pandemic, people found their options limited to the products of often-neglected kitchens. They turned to blogs, YouTube videos, and tutorials of all kinds to learn how to prepare their own meals.
In response, restaurant suppliers “started breaking apart industrial-size packages of bread, paper products and other staples to sell directly to consumers,” the Los Angeles Times reported—although pandemic concerns and intrusive red tape hampered the transition.
That meant supermarket shelves were a little bare as suppliers struggled to meet demand and develop new distribution networks, so Americans took new interest in their gardens. “We sold more seeds in March than at any other time in our 144-year history,” announced George Ball, chairman of The Burpee Company. And yes, those are “mostly vegetable seeds and plants such as tomatoes, peppers, and beans,” according to House Beautiful.
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