The most surprising thing of quarantine is–well, so many things–but for whatever reason, the one that I think about most is grocery shopping.
Grocery shopping! The once mostly pleasant, rather innocuous errand that could also be a burden, a slight tickle in the throat, an inconvenience, but also very much a way to kill time. We need more tortilla chips, I would tell my husband. Sometimes I would drag my son to Trader Joe’s on an early Saturday morning so my husband could sleep in a little more. Or I would want a lemon, you know, just ONE lemon, so off to the store I would go for said lemon…and some extra snacks since I was already there.
Going to the store is now stressful. Suit up: wear outside clothes, put on the gloves, the mask. Stand in line for Trader Joe’s or Costco for at least fifteen minutes with the appropriate six-feet of social distancing. Stand still in the hope no one coughs on me or gets too close to me. Hope I don’t cough in public.
Now we only go to the store once a week, and one upside to this is far less wasted food. We buy in bulk, and we are thankful for everything we get, especially fresh produce. Our cupboard is no longer full of snacks half eaten but growing stale due to our lack of interest as they are callously cast aside for the next batch of snacks. We can’t get bored with a snack and go buy something else because we’re hardly ever at the store. I’ve been wanting to make tacos all week but have had to wait. I have been craving those Mochi Rice Crackers from Trader Joe’s, and when I ate one, it was the most delicious thing I have tasted in so long just because it tasted so different from what we’ve been running through at home. I’ve never appreciated those crackers to that extent. Every new snack, every new food item we’re able to obtain suddenly feels so special and precious.
A neighbor confirmed these feelings when she told me that her first take-out experience since shelter-in-place was from a local Thai place called Charm Eatery. She said it was the most decadent, delicious meal she’d had because it was the first time she wasn’t cooking the food in eighteen days. Someone else cooking for you? The flavors of Thai food of which spices I don’t keep in my cupboard? I’m sure it was a delight.
I like that we’re more conscious of the food at home. We take stock of what we have in order to make less trips to the grocery store and make do with what we have. There is less food waste because everything has slowed down. Life does feel significantly less colorful under lockdown. There is much less variety than I am used to. It did make me think of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s A Little House on the Prairie, which follows the paradigm of “waste not, want not.” One Christmas Laura and Mary got oranges, and they were so enamored with the treats. Oranges! I can’t imagine a child around me being delighted by an orange. I’ve seen perfectly good apples thrown away in classroom trash cans. I’m sure I’ve thrown away pretty good but slightly soggy apples, so it’s a good reminder of what used to be the norm instead of having all the choices and more at our fingertips, being overwhelmed by said choices, and throwing things away in order to not have to deal with these choices.
But there is nothing more deeply satisfying for me than when I find a way to use up all those leftovers in the fridge and not throw anything out. That’s the moment when I think I am at my most cleverest and somewhat earn my keep as a human being.