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Credit: Brooke Fitts
The Way We Eat

“I’d Rather Cancel the Cable than Risk Our Health.” How 2 Seattle Tattoo Artists Are Feeding Their Family Right Now.

published Apr 26, 2020
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NameApril and Jeff Cornell
Location: Seattle, WA
How many people regularly eat together in your home? Usually 3 (April, Jeff, and their 12-year-old daughter), but now 4 since their 18-year-old daughter moved home from college.
Avoidances: April has Lyme disease. To avoid flare-ups, she eats very little sugar, oil, salt, gluten, dairy, and foods that are high in histamines.

April and Jeff Cornell have been in the tattoo business together for 13 years of their marriage, running Seattle-based shops Hidden Hand Tattoo and Altar Tattoo and Reiki, all while raising their two daughters, now 12 and 18. They hit a few bumps in the road just over a year ago, when April came down with a difficult-to-diagnose (and expensive-to-treat) health condition that turned out to be Lyme disease. In the midst of dealing with a personal health crisis, our country developed a crisis of its own and the Cornells were forced to close their shops’ doors.

For a family that’s not used to being home together 24/7, the Cornells are now having to navigate life in close quarters while keeping an immunocompromised April safe at all costs. We spoke with the couple about keeping their businesses afloat from home, wrangling enough produce for their “heavy metal detox smoothies,” and their dream post-coronavirus restaurant meal.

How are you guys holding up right now?
April: We own two tattoo shops in Seattle and we were mandated to close on March 16. The people we employ have been unable to work as well. It’s been a struggle figuring out how we’re going to keep our businesses afloat alongside the bills coming in at home. I’ve also been dealing with a health crisis over the last 15 months, which turned out to be Lyme disease. It’s been such a struggle financially, as most of those medical visits are not covered by health insurance. Treatment costs around $3,500 to $4,000 a month. This has been quite a disruption.

And because of the nature of what you do, you’re unable to work at home, right?
April: We have been able to do at-home consultations but that’s it. I had clients who had already set up consultations and so has Jeff. We do FaceTime calls or Google Hangouts with clients. This brings in a little money for deposits, but by no means is it substantial.
Jeff: It’s a very small part of our business. Ultimately, they’re a downpayment on work we’re going to do later.
April: I also sell retail at my shop, Altar, so I quickly got an online store set up which has been doing pretty well. Right after we were quarantined, people were shopping a lot and making orders through Instagram and buying gift cards. But that has dwindled.

Credit: Brooke Fitts

What has it been like to have your whole family at home — all the time?
Jeff: Our oldest daughter, who is in college, had to move home very abruptly, so we’re all back together now.
April: Since she had moved out and started her life, I made her old room my office and my retail location for my Altar merch. So that’s unfortunate! It’s a little bit cramped and she’s having to stay on the couch.
Jeff: And our 12-year-old loves to be home by herself. She’s overwhelmed. On one hand, it’s added peace of mind that the whole family is together. We have this level of control over everyone’s safety and health. So that part is good. But it’s a spatial adjustment, and one more person to feed, and one more dietary opinion to deal with.

Tell me about that! What does grocery shopping look like for you these days?
Jeff: I’d prefer not to go to the store more than once a week. And that’s been an adjustment with our older daughter coming home — because one more person makes the food go quicker. I’ve also realized it’s a timing thing; sometimes the store is stocked and other times I can’t find things we usually get, like cilantro.
April: Which we use in this heavy metal detox smoothie we drink every morning. It’s got barley powder, spirulina, non-dairy milk (we use flax), fresh cilantro, blueberries. Jeff adds a banana, but I cant. I’ll have a peeled zucchini to make it creamy.
Jeff: April needs to eat a lot of fresh vegetables because of her diet, but we run out of those fairly quickly and I feel like I have to go to the store regularly to make sure we have them. I feel like we’re running a restaurant.

In what way?
Jeff: I have to try to be strategic and buy things that I know won’t go to waste, but not buy so much that we won’t get through in a week. Meal planning has definitely become more of a necessity in this case.

Credit: Brooke Fitts

Have you had to adjust your food budget through all of this?
April: Mostly because our diet is so important to us and my health, we choose to sacrifice other things before we sacrifice our food budget.
Jeff: I’d rather cancel the cable than risk our health.
April: The kids also want to order out; they want Thai food. But when we do that, it’s like $80. It’s just not economical right now. We’ll do it for special occasions, but not like we used to.
Jeff: They also want to eat more meat items, which I do too, but April doesn’t generally eat meat. They’ve been really good about the concessions we have to make.

That’s fair. So what has this time taught you about the way you eat?
: Jeff has taken over making dinners every night. Pre-coronavirus, we’d split it 50/50, but I had surgery right at the beginning of quarantine. I used to be very strict about my diet — so many foods flare my symptoms — and I was doing really well, not eating sugar, oil, salt, gluten, dairy. But when all of this happened, I started eating things out of convenience. We’ve been leaning more on comfort foods, and sugar has snuck back into our lives. It feels like a coping mechanism a little bit.
Jeff: It’s hard to resist the convenience of chips and salsa, and cheese and crackers! In a lot of ways, we’ve fallen back into old ways. But I would say, we still eat far better than we used to.

“I used to be very strict about my diet — so many foods flare my symptoms — and I was doing really well, not eating sugar, oil, salt, gluten, dairy. But when all of this happened, I started eating things out of convenience.”

How has taking over full cooking responsibilities been, Jeff?
Jeff: I’ve gotten into the habit of making big batches of things so I don’t have to cook every single night. One or two nights a week, we’ll have rice and veggies or pasta, just to give me a break. I’ve also become super controlling over the fridge, like, “Don’t make anything new until you eat the old stuff!” I feel like my parents.
April: One of our favorites is a combo of whatever vegetables we have in the fridge, onion, garlic, sautéed with some rice, and a sauce on top.
Jeff: I’m getting better at varying recipes, with sauce for sure. I want to make them in ways that are more healthy and meet April’s needs, but taste good to all of us and are not bland. I’ve got a pretty good peanut sauce down, and I’m getting better at curry. We use a lot of coconut milk. Now I’m trying to figure out how to hone in on a good Kung Pao.

Credit: Brooke Fitts

What’s the first thing you’ll do when this is all over?
April:There are so many places I can’t eat out, but there are a couple in town I enjoy going to that meet my dietary restrictions. Of course, I’ll still have to get something that’s gluten- and dairy-free and vegetable-based.
Jeff: It’s something I’ve thought about a lot. I wanna go somewhere, sit down, get served, and have a big breakfast.

Thanks for sharing, Jeff and April! Visit their tattoo shop websites, Hidden Hand and Altar, for updates.

Credit: The Kitchn

The Way We Eat is a series of profiles and conversations with people like you about how they feed themselves and their families.We’re actively looking for people to feature in this series. You don’t have to be famous or even a good cook! We’re interested in people of all backgrounds and eating habits. How do you overcome challenges to feed yourself? If you’d like to share your own story with us, or if you know of someone you think would be great for this series, start here with this form.