Battle Chef Brigade Helps Me Navigate A Complicated Relationship With Food During Covid-19

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Screenshot: Nintendo
Screenshot: Nintendo

(Note: This post contains discussions of disordered eating.)

During the pandemic, there are days when I don’t eat. I’ll be hungry, and I’ll have food, but I’ll just simply decline to eat. Quarantine robs me of my desire to eat, and depression from said quarantine robs me of the energy to cook. But what I can do, what’s been my placebo for a healthy eating regimen lately, is Battle Chef Brigade.

Battle Chef Brigade is an action RPG/ match 3 puzzle platformer that answers the question “What if we made Iron Chef a video game?” Released in 2017, the game stars Mina Han, a cook at her family’s restaurant who dreams of becoming a member of the elite Battle Chef Brigade — which is, as far as I can tell, a super secret club of chefs who cook really, really well and use their culinary skills to save the world possibly? I haven’t exactly grasped what the Battle Chefs do when there isn’t a plague poisoning the world’s food supply.

When the pandemic started, I heard a lot of jokes about gaining a “Quarantine 15.” At my old job, our daily Zoom meetings would be people snarking about how all they did was eat all day. Meanwhile, I was barely subsistence eating. A piece of toast here, an apple there, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for dinner (which I’ll do even on a good day because PBJs flipping ROCK.) Then, when I am hungry to the point that I have to do something, I pick up the phone and order DoorDash. While I feel pretty good about the healthy choices I make there, I still feel like shit because I feel like I’m not adulting properly. I have fish and chicken and vegetables in my freezer; I should be eating them instead of “wasting money” by ordering out. It contributes to this negative spiral of feeling bad for not eating, then feeling bad when I do eat, which causes me to abandon everything that makes me feel bad for something that makes me feel better: Battle Chef.

Battle Chef Brigade is a cute and novel little take on puzzle games that quiets the voice in my brain that yells at me for being hungry, then yells at me for eating garbage, and further yells at me for not cooking. The puzzles are thoughtful, there’s a steady difficulty curve that keeps the game fresh, and the art style is mouth watering — I can almost smell the BBQ Dragon Shank while also thinking “ooh how can I make that in the game?”

I still want to cook real food and eat normally, like I did before all this coronavirus madness started. My spirit is willing, but the flesh is depressed and unmotivated. Battle Chef satisfies the spirit and the flesh. No, I’m not eating the game — those Switch cartridges taste awful — but I get the same excited little jolt preparing Sun Hat Tomato Curry that I would eating actual curry. It doesn’t fill me the way food does obviously, but maybe I have a crossed wire somewhere in my brain that’s satisfied with cooking fake food that, tragically, you never see anybody eat.

Battle Chef distracts me while also giving me the sense that I’m doing something that’s not languishing on my couch after work. It’s a weird, messy coping strategy, and I should probably see a dietician or a therapist so I can get back to eating in a more healthy way. For now, leave me with my Dragon Heart Dumplings and Nochi Fruit Sponge Rolls. Maybe I’ll make the real world versions when this is all over.

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