Grocery Shopping During a Pandemic

I keep recommendations about keeping a journal during the COVID-19 pandemic. I haven’t done that, although the topic does come up in many of the things about which I write, but today I thought I would look at one of the biggest impacts this event has had on my life: grocery shopping, something that I have to do tomorrow.

I have always enjoyed grocery shopping. As shopping services have become more and more popular, I have continued to go the store myself. I actually like taking my time to select produce and cuts of meat, and I like doing a bit of impulse shopping here and there, picking up a new item or something that looks interesting or that I think my family will really enjoy. In the past, I would go to the store once a week and buy most the items we’d need, but I always left the door open to the possibility of running out to the store to pick up something I forgot, or even buy the ingredients for a whole new meal I decided I wanted to make.

But now, everything has changed. Because we are trying to limit our exposure to the outside world, I now go grocery shopping once every two weeks. Do you have any idea how challenging it is to shop for enough food to last a family of seven two full weeks? Writing a list that long is exhausting in itself, and I usually start on it a full week in advance, in an attempt to not forget anything, but the actual grocery shopping process is something else altogether. It involves two carts, (and blisters on my hand when I’m through from pulling them both…I wonder what the total weight of two overflowing carts is?!?), which is a neat trick when you’re shopping alone (although a helpful Walmart employee who is my new hero showed me how to hook two carts together like a little train last month, and that is a lifesaving technique!). And those two carts are always completely full by the time I hit the checkout.

It takes about two hours to complete a shopping trip that large, and that’s with me being in line outside the store when they open. I usually buy six gallons of milk, and about 25-30 pounds of various meats. I’m sure that other shoppers think I’m a hoarder (and I have actually seen people laugh at my antics!), but there are SEVEN of us at home, four of whom are teenagers. This is simply the food we need to last two weeks! I haven’t run into purchase limits on food yet, but I fear that’s coming…three packages of meat or two gallons of milk certainly won’t last our family very long!

I’ve started buying a lot of extra produce, partly because I’m afraid that eventually, the supply line for fruits and vegetables will break, and I want to make sure we’re eating them while we can, and partly because I want to make sure we get all the extra vitamins we can right now. And I spend extra time in each aisle, making sure I can’t think of anything I forgot to add to my list while I peruse the shelves. I imagine this is also annoying to people, but I’m beyond caring.

Once I get home, it takes me at least another hour to put everything away. If you think fitting enough food for all of us into the carts is an impossible task, imagine trying to find room for it all at home!. I have perfected my refrigerator and freezer Tetris game, (although I’m still working on my pantry Jenga game!), but something is still likely to leap out and attack whoever has the nerve to open the doors. And while I’m thankful that our pantry is well-stocked, it is a complete disaster, because it’s just not big enough for everything I try to cram in it!

Sometimes I dream about the day I can go to the store and buy only what I need for one week. Without having to wear a mask and deal with my glasses fogging up. Or just run to the store to pick up that missing spice, or the ingredients to bake something. Or even to bring a helper with me to push one of the carts, because even with the train technique, pulling two fully loaded carts is hard on the shoulder by the end of the shopping trip! But I also wonder if I’ll ever really feel comfortable shopping again, if I’ll ever really enjoy the process of grocery shopping like I used to. I know there will be a new normal, but I’m having a hard time imagining what that will look like at the grocery store!

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