My Two Week Experiment: The Results Are In!

Well, I made it. Two weeks without visiting the grocery store. It's some kind of shopping miracle! 

Let me backup a bit to explain the challenge that I gave myself (and my friends on FB) two weeks ago.  I had been watching a press conference with the President and his medical advisors, Dr. Fauci and Dr. Birx. The doctors specifically said that the upcoming two weeks (the ones that just passed) would be critical in flattening the curve. It was strongly suggested to not go out, limiting time away from home for essential business only. They specifically said that now was not the time to go to the grocery store. I took that as a real mandate and frankly, it made me a little fearful. I am a compliant person (mostly) and so I decided to follow this advice. It's hard to know how to contribute during this crisis and this seemed a very concrete way of doing just that. I want to share what happened, what I found out and whether or not I would do this again. I came up with this "challenge" and shared it on FB. People chimed in to say what they were doing and the types of problems they were encountering, such as no delivery time slots and products that couldn't be found. I want to share the results of what I learned during my time of "no in person" grocery shopping. Here goes!

As with any challenge, well, there were challenges. I have broken them down into categories to make things easier.

Fresh vegetables and fruits:
As to be expected, I ran out of fresh vegetables and fruits first. Items like kale, broccoli, and other leafy greens were used up right away. Root vegetables such as potatoes, carrots, and sweet potatoes lasted much longer. What I learned is that I should buy a mix of perishable and semi  perishable items. Leafy greens are eaten first but things like bananas, oranges and apples can all last longer in the freezer (bananas) or in the fridge. Berries can be frozen too for smoothies. Veggies are a little harder. You can blanch and freeze broccoli and probably green beans without too much sacrifice in quality. These suggestions are worth a try and some effort.

Corn gets a special mention here. I am nearly sick of corn-frozen, canned, or otherwise! Corn is a staple in my diet, it's true, but boy am I getting tired of it!

Frozen Vegetables: 
From the get go, more frozen spinach would have been very helpful. Unfortunately, every person around here must have thought so too because the shelves at the store were completely empty. Also, frozen green beans are not the best. They are palatable but not my first choice. The freezing process in general is pretty good. Not as optimal as fresh but second best I would say.

Canned Veggies?:
With the exception of beets and corn (obviously), canned vegetables are not my first choice. And before you get down on me, I understand perfectly that everyone has their preferences. I also acknowledge (and respect) that for many people, canned vegetables are the only option or canning vegetables might be culturally significant. Canning is also a good way to preserve food that you have grown yourself so I've nothing against it. It's just that the green beans were sad. Very sad. I felt bad for them being treated like that. But, any port in a storm.

Did I shop otherwise?:
Why yes, I did! Quite a lot! I bought dry goods only since we don't have a CSA delivery in our area. Let me say that I am set for rice! Many businesses were low or downright out of products and so I had to hunt around. I found a couple of small family style retailers that I am happy to support: a small farm in Southern Illinois and a Native American farm in Arizona. Intuitively though, I know that shopping online is a 50-50 thing. Me shopping and having things delivered (dry goods only), means that trucks and their drivers are on the road. It also means that people somewhere in some warehouse are working to pack and ship my goods-also a risk. This activity is good for the economy but also puts workers at risk of getting the virus. It made me (and still does make me) very conflicted. Shopping though seems to be part of my makeup. I seem to have to do it. That isn't an excuse; I am just being realistic.

How often is enough?:
I realized rather quickly that I am very dependent on going to the grocery store as often as I want and to get whatever I want. This probably isn't good. There is the impact on the environment by my car and I am contributing to general congestion. Once a week would be sufficient. My plan going forward is to have a designated grocery day and to stick to that. I realize though that each person probably has their own comfort zone for how often they go to the store. It's probably dependent on habit, culture, location, season, transportation, and the ability to pay. Most people I know, myself included, are blessed with the means to go to the grocery store when necessary. I was reminded of this a lot during this two week period.

Fear mongering:
I noticed some fear mongering online (looking at you, FB!) and in person regarding who was shopping where. Our neighbor told us that people from out of town had come to our little community and bought up all of the meat. (You can imagine my response to that!) On FB I saw that folks were worried about the same thing; people from "outside" buying up all of the supplies. There is a mentality at work here and one I can't quite put my finger on. I know that fear is often at the bottom of things. It's what motivates many of us to do seemingly irrational things such as buying mass quantities of toilet paper (and meat apparently). And I know that we instinctively fear the outsider. My feeling is that as long as people aren't ridiculous there is enough to go around regardless of where you choose to shop.

Creative cooking?
I am uncertain if I expected to get creative in the kitchen when my fresh veggie and fruit supply ran low. Regardless, I will admit that I just got tired of thinking stuff up to cook that didn't involve what I didn't have. If I was single, things would be different. I am married though and I can't give Rich a waffle for dinner. He doesn't cook either so although he was sympathetic I feel that he wasn't actually standing in my shoes, so to speak. Putting dinner on the table every night is hard work, in my opinion. It isn't the physical act of cooking so much as the struggle to provide variety. I found that to be the hardest aspect of "missing" some ingredients in my pantry.

There weren't any other real surprises other than what is mentioned above. I will say that after such a long hiatus, my trip to the grocery store today became kind of a big to-do. People were there shopping as if nothing was wrong. Some were wearing masks and observing the distance rule. Others didn't seem to care too much, which is disheartening. It's one of those things I think where stuff just doesn't get real for people unless it is happening to them personally. There were some gaps on the shelves. Who the hell bought all of the damn flour and what are they doing with it, other than letting it get stale? Other than that, the shelves were well stocked and the produce looked good. 

It was a good experiment and I am glad I did it. Will I go two weeks again without going to the store? Probably not unless it is specifically mandated. I think once a week is sufficient and likely safe for the time being. I hope. There is still so much we don't know about this virus. We just don't have a lot of data to begin with to draw any conclusions other than to implement the precautions that are already in place. Could I have continued on without going to the store? Probably but the meals I made simply wouldn't have been as varied. I like to think my pantry is pretty diverse but it's hard to get away from the fact that fresh fruits and vegetables are a really nice addition. I am not sure that I will do anything differently after this exercise such as plant a more extensive garden or have groceries delivered. (Safeway is evidently doing that now in our area but for how long?) If anything has come out of this two week period, it's that I feel grateful for what we do have. It might just be rice and beans and canned corn but I can work with that!