The Reason Americans Are Ditching Health Food During The Pandemic

When it comes to eating preferences, as an old cliché used to put it, there are two types of people — those who live to eat (foodies, you know who you are!) and those who eat to live (nothing but healthy food goes into these body temples). Now that we're all in survival mode, you'd think we'd double down on nutritious eating, wouldn't you? Well, in the early days of coronavirus social distancing, self-quarantining, sheltering in place, or whatever it is we're doing, that's not really how things are panning out. Emotions are running high, and for comfort, we're all running to the fridge — but when we get there, we want to see our dear old friends Ben & Jerry, not those annoying do-gooders kale and broccoli.

Why is everyone ditching those healthy eating New Year's resolutions en masse? Well, as CNN points out, high-fat, high-carb, high-sugar foods increase levels of dopamine, otherwise known as the feel-good hormone — at least, in the short run, they do. In the long run, eating junk food will make us feel worse and gain weight and get less healthy and generally mess up our bodies and blah blah blah... but thinking about the future is way too scary. You know what feels good? Baking feels good. Life is uncertain, but at least the cookie jar is full.

More reasons why the pandemic is changing our eating habits

Another reason why we're not exactly eating the rainbow these days (unless Skittles count) is that we don't know what's going to sell out or run out or when or if we'll be able to make another grocery run, so we're opting for more shelf-stable — or at least refrigerator-stable — options.

Also, interestingly enough, Yahoo! Finance reports that meat and potatoes are back in style. Potatoes, perhaps, because they are cheap and long-lasting. Meat — well, the price is dropping on that, too. Part of the reason why meat is resurgent, however, may be that the formerly vegan-curious seem to be putting off satisfying that curiosity until better days — we've got enough to worry about these days, with each news report leading off with dire coronavirus stats, so can you blame us if we're a bit less concerned about the plight of chickens or the effect beef cattle may be having on the climate? While Impossible this and Beyond that may have been all the rage six months ago, plant-based meat substitutes are among the items that are not finding their way into everyone's panic-filled grocery carts.

Our bad habits do have their upside

Over the past few years, a number of companies whose primary focus is on packaged foods have been struggling, what with consumer focus having shifted towards eating fresh, eating local, and wanting everything to be organic, artisanal, and sustainable. What could companies like Campbell Soup Co., General Mills, Kraft Heinz co., and Tyson Foods Inc. do to compete? Hunker down and wait for worse days, as it happened. All of these companies reported sales up between 10 to 20 percent from early February through early March, with sales of certain products really soaring. Popcorn sales were up by 48 percent, pretzel sales rose 47 percent, potato chips were 30 percent higher, and even Spam is selling 37 percent better than it was a year ago (it's a surprisingly versatile mystery meat, after all).

As the self-quarantine and closures drag on and we all start packing on a few pounds, we might have to take another look at our eating habits, maybe work in a few workouts as well. The trend towards feel-good foods we can prepare ourselves is something that may well outlast the virus, though, since the long-lasting economic impact will likely have all of us learning new ways to make and enjoy meals at home instead of dining out as often as before.