Food Research/ Corona Virus

My research into foodways in Dhofar has been hampered by the corona virus, but when you work in the field of ethnography, any object or event is a way to gain insights so I have been focusing on: what food-related events can I notice/ interpret during this stay-at-home time?

First, the Omani government is doing a fantastic job of disseminating information to all citizens and residents. There are regular news bulletins (in Arabic and English) with not only clear instructions (how to properly wash hands, what are the symptoms of corona, etc. – example below), but also the rational for the government’s actions. There are daily updates of the number of cases in the Sultanate and where to go for medical help, including explicit statements that 1) health care is free to everyone and 2) expats will not be asked for a labor card, allowing people in the country without a valid visa to get help (example below).

Two small actions which I appreciate are that all official government notices are in same design/ font/ color so it’s easy to know it’s an official message. Also hypermarkets have the housewares, clothes, computer, appliance sections cordoned off/ lights turned off to prevent people from browsing for fun, but if you need a particular item, you can ask permission to enter and get one item. This reduces the stress of worrying about getting a replacement if something breaks but means that people aren’t congregating in large stores to pass the time.

Related to food issues, the government has done its best to stop hording with regular announcements that there is sufficient food (example below) and announcements/ photos of fresh fruits and vegetables purchased from India. There are announcements of the illegality of price-gouging in stores and that all delivery services must follow safety regulations (example below). All customers must have their temperature checked before entering a grocery store and all grocery stores must ensure all carts are sanitized before each use, all customers wear gloves, and free hand sanitizer is available (example below).

Grocery stores (during my once a week shopping trip!) are well-stocked with all the basics: vegetable oil, rice, meat, fish, basic fruits and vegetables such as onions, potatoes, carrots, cucumbers, apples, oranges, bananas, etc. There are all kinds of cleaners/ sanitizers; masks sell out quickly, but new supplies arrive every week. However, there are fewer types of fruits and vegetables (especially frozen ones) and some non-Omani, non-essential foods are not being restocked (cheddar cheese, types of noodles, sauces, chips).

In terms of my research, before corona, it was almost exclusively women who used Instagram and Whatsapp to advertise home catering businesses, but now men are starting to use social media to sell fish (cleaned, cut and delivered) and lobster (during the time it is in season) because the fish markets are closed. These ads explicitly state that safe hand-over procedures will be followed. The government has also created an on-line fish market to help buyers and sellers find each other (see below).

As it is Ramadan and I can’t check in with my informants (it would be impolite to bother them with research questions during the holy month), I am assuming, but can’t prove, that family/ neighbor supply lines are being used to share cow and camel milk, meat, fish, fruit and vegetables. What I have heard anecdotally is that some Dhofaris whose workplaces are closed are using their free time to bring in extra food supplies by working/ supervising  on their farms, fishing etc. During every Ramadan, Dhofaris buy and make food to give to others, especially those in need, but during this Ramadan in particular, people are extending extra efforts to make sure everyone has sufficient fresh food.

example of official testing message:

govt - testing

example of government message about food supplies

govt-food supply

example of government message about food supplies, particularly fish

govt - fish markets

government rules for food shopping

govt - shopping

government rules for safe food delivery

gov't - food delivery safety