Home Front: Love, marriage and grocery shopping in the time of COVID-19 – GazetteNET

Posted: May 5, 2020 at 5:42 pm


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Well, at a certain point you have to dry your eyes, put on your big girl pants and figure out how to manage for the long haul. The first order of business was the grocery situation. The day the schools closed was the day before my daughters 12th birthday; I had gone to Big Y in hopes of getting some incidental things for her birthday cake, but when I saw the lines and the general air of panic in the crowded aisles, I quietly put back the vanilla and the powdered sugar and candles, left and didnt set foot in the store or any grocery store for another four weeks.

I didnt go to the store because back in February, with sudden, bewildering efficiency, my husband, Steve, had taken over the shopping. Groceries are usually my purview. I am strict about food and spend a lot on fruit and vegetables, weird grains, tofu. I dont like buying deli meat or beef of any kind. I am always trying to pick the crackers and cereals with the most fiber and least amount of additives and am perpetually exceeding our grocery budget for the sake of organic whatever a tendency that has always prompted a little teeth-gnashing from Steve, who is admirably frugal.

But for several weeks, Steve had been coming back from the store with enough groceries to have blown the budget by significantly more than a bag of organic arugula.

It started small an extra can of beans here, an extra pack of toilet paper there but eventually progressed to the point where our basement resembled a serviceable shelter for end times, if end times involved a lot of Goldfish crackers and Ronzoni. I rolled my eyes but didnt say anything. Weve known each other for 20 years, have been married for almost 16. Emergency preparedness is something he relishes, like a crossword or a puzzle. He once made me bring several bottles of water and a snack just in case I got stranded on a quick run through Fitzgerald Lake.

Despite my firsthand knowledge of, and love for, this particular quirk of his, there was a point at which all of Steves prep began to grate on my nerves. I cant remember exactly when the annoyance set in after the stationary bike delivery but before the portable fire pit arrived on the porch? Or maybe before the hunting down of extra yeast, bought from some unnamed source in a plastic cup, but after the commercial flour jackpot discovery?

Right after the governors order was issued, Steve felt a crushing personal responsibility for all the beloved stores and restaurants that had to close or limit operations and bought so many loaves of bread from Bread Euphoria that we could barely fit them all in the freezer.

All of this was distressing to me in the extreme. I have mentioned that Steve is frugal, but let me give you a concrete example: He still refers, albeit with a wink, to his threadbare, 20-year-old fleece jacket as his New Fleece. He keeps a strict monthly budget, and we stick to it, the occasional exceptions being stuff for the kids and my dalliances with organic produce. We have long-term savings. We have short-term savings. We have retirement accounts. We have charitable giving budgets. We have budgets for gifts. We have budgets for dates. So to suddenly encounter a man who throws caution to the wind and buys 14 pounds of dried beans from nutstop.com without due consideration was like living with a bodysnatcher my lovable pinchpenny, gone.

Im joking, sort of. But, more seriously, my unhappiness with this state of affairs is based on a question no one really wants to think about, except maybe from the safety of less menacing times: In a world where there is not enough to go around, what would you do?

My first instinct in all of this has been to draw down: to eat less, buy less. The other night I found myself wondering whether I should add another carrot to the soup or if I should save it a thought with no basis in reason, because how would saving a single carrot help anything?

Every time Ive read a book or seen a movie involving pandemic or zombie apocalypse, I have thought: Id rather die than live in a world where I had to shoot someone in order to get food, or where I had to say no to someone who was starving in order to survive. In his extra-budgetary purchases of pasta and toilet paper, I saw in Steve a different, not exactly selfless instinct. In a pandemic movie, he would be the hero with the gun, certainly but they dont usually show that guy giving up his last can of beans to a stranger.

All of this came to a head a few weeks ago when finally, exasperated, I insisted that I do the shopping. Steve had been putting me off every week, saying that he was the one who knew the routine, it was better if he did it, why didnt I just stay home with the kids, before zipping off and coming back with an insane amount of stuff that choked the fridge. I intended to restore some rationality to the budget, and also he was buying weird kinds of cheese. I havent been to the store in a month! I told him, practically shouting. Its ridiculous! I cant just never go to the store again!

I think for the rest of my life I will remember the strange, sad look he gave me before he said, quietly, Ive just been trying to spare you what its like there. Its not the same as it was before. Its depressing. And its stressful. Youre doing so much already that I thought I could take this one on for the household.

In that moment, I realized something. Steves quasi-hoarding instincts were partly about physical survival (survival might be too strong a word) but also about the enabling of a kind of moral vision (or illusion, depending on your level of cynicism), specifically mine. The image I have of myself as the kind of person who would rather die than surrender to the savagery of survivors in a zombie movie was made possible by his efforts to buy, acquire and save the same survivalist impulses I had been mentally condemning. Its easy to give away a can of beans when you have shelves full of them. But if I really did have nothing but a meal or two left in the pantry, and our kids were hungry and crying, what would I do?

Its an impossible calculus and one that I cant make hypothetically. I hope I would be the person I think I am; I hope my kids would be proud of me. But you never know. In the meantime, Steve and I now alternate the weekly shopping because, while I hate going to the store, it feels much better to share the lousiness, and we are both lucky enough to work remotely anyway.

His survival instincts have calmed down a little, although the other day he did buy and install a bidet toilet attachment. The water is a little cold on the bum, the whole set up requires some extra steps, and Im still not used to it yet. But it saves an enormous amount of toilet paper and of arguably equal importance it allows us to keep the margin of kindness and civilization alive. Do you need toilet paper? Just ask me.

Francie Lin is an editor and writer who has a complicated relationship with domestic life. She lives in Florence.

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Home Front: Love, marriage and grocery shopping in the time of COVID-19 - GazetteNET

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