Editor's note: Donna M. Romeo is founding principal of Romeo Anthropological Consulting LLC. Laurie Tema-Lyn is founder of research firm Practical Imagination Enterprises. 

While catching up with each other on a Zoom call during the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the two of us got to talking about the concept of dinner. We talked about how the crisis was affecting us personally and how the notion of dinner and all its associated parts – grocery shopping, meal planning, cooking and eating – was in many ways being challenged. 

Wondering how our own experiences compared to those of others, we decided to reach out to a diverse group of people of different ages, backgrounds, households and locales. (See methodology box.)

With curiosity and open minds, we explored “dinner in the age of COVID-19.” We wanted to understand whether the notion of dinner itself was changing and some of the attitudes, values and behaviors around dinner planning, shopping, preparation, sanitation practices and food storage. We also wanted to explore what lessons might be gained from this crisis. 

We discovered key themes that cut across differences in age, life stage, living arrangement, region and socioeconomic status. 

Dinner in the age of COVID-19 is characterized as a time of taking stock – an act that is expressed and experienced physically, socially, emotionally and spiritually.

Physically: How are people accumulating food and other material items to stay safe and well-fed during the crisis? What is the experience of trying to obtain these items? 

Socially: How are people checking-in, safeguarding and providing for families and loved ones during this time? How are they reacting to neighbors and community?

Emotionally: How are people feeling? How are they coping with stress and anxiety? Is it possible to find happiness and joy during COVID-19?

Spiritually: How are people (re)assessing the...