The Perfect Enemy | Finally, I got Covid. Give me chicken soup, Marmite and drugs
July 5, 2022

Finally, I got Covid. Give me chicken soup, Marmite and drugs

Finally, I got Covid. Give me chicken soup, Marmite and drugs  The Guardian

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Finally, I got Covid. Give me chicken soup, Marmite and drugs

Nutrition used to be the cornerstone of nursing. So I’ll have plenty of what makes me feel better – as well as the medication

When we are unwell, we retreat to a place of safety. So here I am, standing in front of mine, bathed in the promising yellow glow of the fridge light, certain that something in here will make me feel better. After two years of thinking I was somehow immune, of giving thanks for my sturdy, bulletproof eastern European peasant DNA, I finally have Covid. I am proper poorly. I am part man, part paracetamol.

There are few upsides to having a bug, whether it be Covid, flu or just a raging, dribbling, snot-storm of a cold. And frankly, there are none at all, if gastric distress is part of the package. But if appetite has not been slaughtered, well then, it’s game on. For being ill provides a double-stamped, fully watermarked, gilt-edged licence to eat what the hell we like. Perhaps, in non-viral times, you’re avoiding the carbs? Sod that. Your body needs bread, potatoes and pasta, ideally together. Fat is no longer a food group to be fretted over. Now it’s an imperative. And chocolate, by which I mean Cadbury’s Dairy Milk rather than any of that artisanal nonsense, is renowned for its profound medicinal qualities. I read that somewhere. Look, it makes me feel better, even if it doesn’t actually make me better.

When ill, we are deep in the world of self-care. Interestingly, while we know that indulgence is no longer an actual indulgence, our appetites often lead us towards older virtues. Standing before that open fridge I spy a carton of chicken soup, and like the good godless Jew that I am, I know it’s necessary. That’s not because it may genuinely have antibiotic qualities. It’s because I know it will taste nice and soothe my throat. I am similarly drawn to the thought of buttery toast with Marmite, a fine and easily achievable mix of carbs, fats and salt. It’s a memory of childhood, of being cared for. Now, in adulthood, we mostly have to be our own nurse, but any foods which recall a time when we were looked after have to be a good thing.

I am a big fan of pharmaceuticals. The drugs really do work. As the virus kicked in, I sent out for enough over-the-counter medications to stock a small branch of Boots. But I do also recognise that those corny aphorisms about food being thy medicine are rooted in a one-time necessity. Before the mid-19th-century pharmaceutical revolution, before the arrival of reliable analgesics, antibiotics and the rest, good nutrition really was the cornerstone of nursing. It was pretty much all they had.

The fact is, we need both. In the wretched brain fog of that first viral day, when I was fit for little, I realised I could cook the one thing my body desired. And what my body desired most was cauliflower cheese. Happily, the fridge was ready to provide. I made a rich bechamel, the very easiest of sauces (I really don’t know why anyone finds it a challenge). I enriched it with fistfuls of good cheese and a little dijon mustard and slathered it over still al-dente florets. I may have added some crisped bacon because in my world that often helps. I baked it until bubbling and bronzed, and served it out to my family, both those infected and those not. Then I leaned over the bowl, scooping it away, lost in the steam. Obviously, I know it was the Lemsip chaser that really managed the evening’s physical symptoms. But the emotional ones? That was all down to the therapeutic qualities of cauliflower cheese.

It seems that in times of illness what we really need are drugs, and a well-stocked fridge.