I walked through the automatic doors of a grocery store today. It was the first time in 17 weeks.
Previous to the pandemic, it felt as if I spent half my life standing in line at the grocery store. It was the bane of my existence. Half author, half grocery shopper. I was always stopping at the shops to pick up food. At the regular ole grocery store, or the bakery, butcher or farmer’s market. I complained about it, but did not understand then that I actually secretly enjoyed sourcing food for my family.
COVID-19 has shown me all that I took for granted.
Our family of three switched to grocery delivery when the pandemic hit. Our local store accepted an emailed list. I knew the store layout well and organized the list into sections. Dairy first, then meat, produce, canned goods and deli. (Forget about the cleaning aisle; there were never any Lysol Wipes anyway). I submitted our list every Saturday morning. A phone call followed a few hours later. I paid by credit card and then in an hour or so the young man doing the delivery would buzz our condo. I let him up and he unpacked the groceries outside our door. I always left a tip containing a $10 with a hand-written thank you and smiley face scrawled on the front of the envelope.
I was at the mercy of the grocery staff. I was terribly grateful for the work they did, for very little pay, to keep my family fed.
My eldest son had worked at a grocery store ten years ago, for three years, from age 15 to 18. He spent his 8 hour shift carefully stacking oranges in the produce section while muzak blared on the store speakers and he yearned for more than minimum wage. I used to pick him up at midnight when the store closed, watching him carefully cover up all the produce with big tarps while I sat in the car outside. I still have a soft spot for grocery store workers. They are an essential service, and damn those employers who recently clawed back their pay by $2 an hour. What, so the owners could buy another yacht? F you capitalism. F you billionaires.
Today the delivery arrived as usual, but oddly it was missing half the items. So my husband and I took a trek to the grocery store, pulling our old lady grocery trolley behind us on the gravel paths to the shop. We adjusted our masks and marched in.
I felt a strange sense of freedom setting foot in the store. I could impulsively buy what I wanted, stock up on items I had forgotten about, like thick pita bread and tzatziki. There were still deli chickens left! And fresh baguettes! (How have the French survived without their daily bread?). All these silly suburban mom things are very important to me now.
When the pandemic started, I panicked about feeding my family. We arrived back from the UK on March 18 and self-quarantined for two weeks. Friends generously sent pre-made dinners and my husband frantically planted a vegetable garden on our terrace. It was my job to make sure everybody was fed.
I went through the over-baking phase of the pandemic – banana loaves, cookies and Nanaimo bars emerged from my kitchen. I frantically sourced yeast. It seemed important to have yeast and flour for bread that I never baked. It was the end of times for two months and I needed to stock up for the looming apocalypse. Paranoid about acquiring COVID from take-away food, we stripped out our eating-out budget to nothing. We ate all our meals at home. Fish, rice, salad; pasta, tomato sauce, tomato salad; pork chops, baby potatoes, beets; chicken burritos; chickpea curry and naan; pork dumplings and fried rice, all on repeat.
In May I settled down. It did not seem like the world was going to end, at least right now. I could stop stuffing my freezer with bread crusts to make breadcrumbs. (How were breadcrumbs going to keep us alive? I’m not sure but it seemed important to hoard all the crusts I could, just in case).
The COVID cases were scarce in our city, so we began to order in meals once every two weeks. Sushi, burgers, pizza. We wiped down everything the delivery man brought us, even the plastic bags. Time crept into June and I got braver. I ordered take-away food online and pick it up at the restaurant, my cloth mask firmly affixed to my face. We ate the occasional picnic at the beach or a park. This seemed both risky and decadent at the same time.
The grocery delivery continued on, until today. When our half order arrived this morning, I was emboldened to go into the store. A young lady was at the entrance, squirting our hands with sanitizer. Many customers and all the staff wore masks. There were one-way lines on the floor. Lurching down the aisles, on the lookout for other grocery zombies, felt strange and futuristic.
The future is here. I will continue to feed my family in whatever form it takes. This has become my part-time job. I will adjust and adapt as I always have when my life has careened out of control (through a divorce, the recalibration of having a disabled kid and cancer). I can do this. So can you. We are going to be okay. Put on your mask, ensure it covers your nose and your mouth, and keep going.