staying home

Grocery shopping in the time of COVID

My lunch yesterday consisted of top ramen and frozen vegetables. That’s how down-to-nothing my food options at home were.

We last went to the grocery store a week-and-a-half ago and are now completely out of fresh vegetables and fruit. I mean, eating just pasta and sauce from a jar for every meal seemed sustainable in college, but now I can’t do that more than once a week — even during covid-times!

So, my husband and I really need to go to the grocery store.

We just put if off for as long as we can. Every week we have gone, it has felt more and more uncomfortable and stressful.

Two weeks ago when we went, I swear that almost every customer except for us were wearing masks. So, the last time we went, we wore running buffs around our faces and hoodies over our heads. As we got into our car to leave for the store, I joked that we probably looked like robbers.

(The next day after making this comment, I realized my privilege allows me to dress like that and freely go grocery shopping without getting ridiculed or make others feel threatened. There have been numerous articles, like this one, and op-eds written by African-American citizens who say that their experiences would not be the same. They can’t just wrap a bandana around their face and walk into a store. I won’t be making “I look like a robber” jokes anymore. It’s really not funny).

Before the grocery trip

I’ve always been a planner, so the pre-grocery store prep isn’t much different now compared to pre-Coronavirus days. My husband and I plan out our meals for the week. We alternate cooking days and I hand-write our shopping list on a Post-It note. I always did this because I would hate having to make multiple shopping trips in one week. It felt like a waste of time and easily avoidable if we just planned ahead. Meal planning also prevented us from wasting food, or going out to eat too often since we would have groceries waiting in our fridge!

We wear clothes that we don’t plan to wear again until they have been washed. I leave my cell phone at home. Why bring an additional item to touch? That’s just another thing to clean off and I don’t want to waste a wipe on it if I don’t have to!

At the store

Even before going into the grocery store, we always make sure to park away from other cars. If we don’t park next to someone, the chances of having to load our car at the same time as someone else diminishes!

Once in the store, we quickly divide and conquer. Bryce and I do not go up and down the aisles together. We split our shopping list. It’s always something like:  “You grab the milk and eggs, I’ll go to the bread section and meet you at check-out!” Of course, there are never any eggs. Anyone else having that same issue as us? Just us? Cool, cool, cool …

I treat everyone else at the store as if they have the virus. If someone is standing in the canned goods aisle and I need white beans, what do I do? I hover at the other end of the aisle and wait for them to get what they are looking for before I approach the canned goods. I do not go and stand right next to them.

Of course it’s sometimes impossible to avoid being right next to someone. One week we opted to do self check-out since our grocery store hadn’t put the six-feet-apart stickers on the floor yet so customers seemed to be standing in lines too close to one another for my liking.

Inevitably since we had such a large grocery haul, at one point the register did not accept an item Bryce tried to scan. The monitor told us to call the attendant. We flagged down the employee who was assigned to the self check-out area and he kindly came over to help us out. He swiped his card to allow him to override the error the register was giving us. He was standing right next to us and I swear I held my breath.

I don’t know why. I know holding my breath will do nothing. It just instinctively happened.

So stressful.

After the shopping trip

We always quickly return to our car and sanitize our hands with one of the only Purell travel bottles we have left.

When we get home, we thoroughly wash our hands first. I always have the need to want to take a shower after every grocery trip, too.

At first we had been wiping down our reusable bags after every trip. Now after we put our groceries away, we just leave the bags “in quarantine” in the basement.

There’s always a tinge of “We did it!” but also, “That was exhausting!” cheering through my head. We have another week to week-and-a-half of cooking and enjoying not having to go grocery shopping, I tell myself.

Who would have thought that such an ordinary activity such as grocery shopping would be so anxiety-induced? I never did.

The other week our local store was depleted of many items. Bryce said at one point he was looking at an empty shelf figuring out what to do when another customer walked by and made a comment that this scene reminded him “of the war.” Bryce later told me that in the moment, he looked at the man who didn’t seem that old and tried to figure out what war he was talking about.

Before Bryce had a chance to say anything back the man said, “I’m from Iraq. This reminds me when we had to ration.”

Let that comment sink in.



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