Professors foster online global food community for home cooks during COVID-19 – The Appalachian

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When restaurants closed in March due to COVID-19 restrictions, two App State professors created a virtual space for people to connect through food. 

Cookvid-19 is a Facebook group dedicated to “the art of cooking in the time of COVID,” creators Jack Kwong and Peter Fawson said.

Kwong, a philosophy professor, and Fawson, a social work professor, are neighbors who share a background in the food service industry and a passion for cooking. They regularly get together to talk about food and make meals for each other’s families. 

When the virus hit, the pair felt a certain anxiety in the air. Fawson said he realized that when restaurants closed, people would suddenly lose a huge part of their community. The pandemic forced people who dine out regularly to either order takeout or cook at home. 

“The thing is, no matter what, people have to eat, and this is going to be a time where people will have to learn how to cook,” Kwong said. “One night, I just decided if talking about food, sharing pictures of food, brings me some happiness, maybe it will make other people happy too.” 

What started as a local online community grew to have a global audience in just three months. Cookvid-19 now has over 8,000 members. Fawson said there are members in 30 different countries, including Spain, Italy and Taiwan. 

“It’s been eye opening to see what we have in common with people, not only in North Carolina, but worldwide,” Kwong said. 

Grace Wong, who lives in Toronto, Canada, discovered the group in March. At the time, there were only a couple hundred members, she said. 

“The group has grown to be so large now, it’s nice to be able to share our experiences together,” Wong said. 

Fawson and Kwong are constantly impressed by how the group continues growing, but said it isn’t really about the numbers. From the beginning, community was the group’s priority. Kwong said it’s about providing a source of joy and fellowship through food in a time of so much anxiety and uncertainty.

  “It’s truly enriching and, in a way, during what I call (these) strange and uncertain times, I know what Cookvid has brought me and maybe some other people is a little bit of escape,” said Shana Swain of Charleston, South Carolina.

Both Swain and Marjon Zimmerman, a professor in the Department of Interdisciplinary Studies at App State, have been active members of the group since March. 

“It’s a place where people in real life might have different lives and perspectives but there it’s about the food and that’s pretty cool,” Zimmerman said. 

In ‘the cookvid manifesto’ posted April 8, Kwong wrote, “Cookvid-19 is for all of you. It welcomes anyone with an interest in looking at, eating, and cooking food. It is a place to help and support one another.”

In April, Fawson and Kwong felt called to give something back to the Boone community on behalf of Cookvid-19. They announced that Cookvid-19 merch would be available – t-shirts, aprons, totes, and sweatshirts, and the proceeds would go to local nonprofits.

“The Cookvid gear is obviously something to remember these troubling times by, but proceeds continue to go to local charities.” Kwong said.

“We’re pretty fortunate in this situation but there are a lot of people who aren’t,” Fawson said.

In just one week, they raised $4,000, some of which they used to make food boxes for restaurant employees who were laid off due to COVID-19. 

They donated $400 to Casting Bread Food Pantry, a self-choice food pantry operated by FaithBridge United Methodist Church in Blowing Rock. 

Kwong and Fawson also encouraged them to donate directly to Wine to Water, a non-profit organization dedicated to providing access to clean water in Northeast Africa, on behalf of Cookvid-19. 

Though the group is private, Cookvid-19 is open to members of all levels of expertise, from beginners to professional chefs. It was important to Kwong and Fawson that Cookvid-19 provide a space where people felt comfortable learning from one another. 

Providing a safe learning space is why they started a Cookvid-19 YouTube channel. In one of the videos you can follow along as Fawson takes you through all the steps of making a savory Japanese pancake called okonomiyaki. 

Alex Lewis, a member of the group since March, lives in California and said the group has taught her quite a bit about Southern cuisine.

“We get a lot of sun here. I grow tomatoes and I’ve made everything tomato,” she said. “but tomato pie is something I’d never heard of.”

Lewis said she hopes the group exists long after COVID-19. 

“I feel like I’m in a community with people even though they’re all strangers to me,” Lewis said.

Fawson and Kwong have a lot of faith in the community they’ve created. They’re working on several ideas for how to make Cookvid-19 an accessible space for students. 

“I expect Cookvid to last,” Kwong said. “Maybe the name will become outdated but so long as people are eating, so long as people are cooking, so long as people are looking for ideas, I think it will remain strong.”


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