Our Pandemic-Fatigued Brains Can't Believe We Used To Eat Like This

Birthday candles? Bobbing for apples? Here's what we’re rethinking in 2022.

The pandemic has rolled over into yet another calendar year, and it's increasingly hard to fathom that the "19" in COVID-19 refers to a year that feels so very far away from now. But along with the years themselves, certain pre-pandemic practices now feel far away and, in some cases, woefully retrograde: handshakes at mixers, maskless optometry appointments, and a whole lot of rituals involving how we cook and share food. Let's walk through some of the ways we (used to) eat that the pandemic has perhaps taken from us forever.

Birthday candles

In an era where we are conditioned to think of every breath as a series of droplets, birthday cake rituals feel very out of place. "Wow, we used to just let the guest of honor spit all over the cake, huh?" you might now say to yourself as you recall the zeal with which children puff their little lungs out to extinguish all the candles in one go—helped, usually, by a parent whose lungs are more powerful and theoretically able to project more germs. Going forward, it might make sense to stick the candles in a cupcake or personal-sized layer cake and let the honoree go to town. Same satisfaction, less spittle.


Bar nuts

A cold beer and a salty snack are the perfect combination. That's exactly why bars lure you in with the latter in order to charge you for the former. Communal dishes of pretzels, peanuts, pistachios, popcorn, or Pub Mix (the five P's) used to be a common sight at the bar, parked for hours right alongside the ashtrays, that other relic of times gone by. Patrons could bare-hand these delicious snacks at their discretion, meaning you were left to trust the hygiene of everyone else with whom you shared the bowl.


Many bars opt to sell snack-size bags of chips behind the bar instead, which serves not only a sanitary purpose but an economic one. Some bars have found a happy middle ground, handing each individual party a fresh basket of free popcorn as they sit down. Let's go with that—more free food in 2022!

Jungle juice

Hopefully none of you share our early-twenties memories of Hefty-bag-lined bathtubs and hurriedly hosed-out storage bins being used as the vessels in which to stir up enormous and highly alcoholic batches of improvised jungle juice. (Who are we kidding? We know this will sound familiar to many of you.)


The practice of scooping refills from this dubious communal "well" with used cups was never the best idea. But in an era where we're trained to approach every gathering as a calculated risk, jungle juice is, hopefully, low on just about anyone's list of can't-miss experiences. You're better off simply Icing your buddies instead.

Bowling + Eating

Picture it: a big, gloppy platter of nachos arrives on the table beside your lane as you and your friends spend the evening bowling. Between turns, your fingers exit the holes of the greasy, ancient bowling ball and plunge straight toward the cheese-covered chips, with little more than a quick swipe of a napkin before returning to bowl your next frame. Every member of your party does the same. With all the reminders to "WASH YOUR HANDS" so recently drilled into our brains, it's now hard to imagine combining food and sports this way without a bottle of hand sanitizer nearby. Maybe it's wisest to wait and eat between games.


Bobbing for apples

No, the pandemic didn't lead to the downfall of this tradition. Luckily, the practice of apple bobbing seems to have gone mostly out of fashion within the past generation or two. Though there's some dispute among experts about the unsanitary nature of apple bobbing—some insist that the risk of infecting subsequent bobbers with your slobber is very low—the fact is that there are safer, less messy ways to tire kids out with an autumnal game. Hygienic apple bobbing alternatives include picking the apples out of the bucket with chopsticks, fishing them out with a spoon, or even sticking to the original mouth-based game but everyone has just one apple in a personal bucket. No reason to do things the old-fashioned way.