The Grocery Store Takes On a New Meaning in the Age Of Corona


The grocery store can provide needed in person interaction. (Courtesy of Erica Weidner/ The Fordham Ram)

I love grocery shopping. 

That’s a sentence that I never thought I’d say. It used to be a chore, but now, it’s my only contact with the outside world. 

Once a week, I venture into the great beyond. I get in my car, crank my music and back out of my driveway. As I’m bopping down the road to “Tainted Love,” it feels like a normal spring day. There’s barely any traffic, and the skies are clear above me. I’m happy. When I put on my mask and walk into the store, that happiness does not diminish. In fact, it grows.

The first grocery run I made, I saw one of my favorite teachers from high school, Mr. Park. He’d taught me economics and philosophy. When I saw him, my instincts told me to run over and hug him. I stopped myself. “We have to stay six feet away,” he said. He was right. We caught up with each other, six feet apart, next to the deli counter.

Mr. Park and I were at the same grocery store for the same reason. He called it “apocalypse shopping.” He gestured to his full cart. Loaves of bread and bags of vegetables lay haphazardly over boxes of cereal and packages of meat. “I think I have everything that we’ve ever eaten in this cart,” he said.

He’d been there since the store opened at 7 a.m. People strategically time their grocery runs so that they can shop after the store restocks but before products sell out. And products do sell out: we’ve all heard about the toilet paper, but what about brown rice? 

Personally, I’m more interested in what doesn’t sell out. For example, cheeses. Not the cheap stuff, but the good, expensive, aged, smelly, creamy, easy-to-spread cheeses. No one’s putting together a tray of cheeses, crackers and charcuterie for their guests — no one has any guests. So I bought gorgonzola, aged gouda and triple-creme brie. 

While walking around the store, I kept thinking of this tweet: “It doesn’t matter how old you get, buying snacks for a road trip should always look like an unsupervised 9-year-old was given $100.” Well, it might be snacks for a pandemic instead of snacks for a road trip, but I have become that unsupervised 9-year-old. I have been given more control over my family than I ever imagined. I can decide what we eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I can buy anything I want. Avocados. Expensive cheeses. Three family-size packages of Oreos. 

As the designated grocery shopper, I also became the designated Easter bunny. It was fun picking out Easter candy — I opted for a miniature carton of Cadbury creme eggs, a box of yellow Peeps and a chocolate rabbit — and sneaking it into the house in a separate bag. I set up an Easter basket for my parents after they went to sleep on Saturday. It was a complete role-reversal of my childhood.

As much as I love the food aspect of grocery shopping, my favorite part of every grocery run is talking to the cashier. This is completely counterintuitive. Before the coronavirus, I would have used the self-checkout to avoid getting pulled into a conversation. Now, I welcome human contact in any form that I can.

If there’s one good thing to come out of the coronavirus pandemic, it’s this: small talk isn’t small talk anymore. I asked the cashier “how are you doing?” and I meant it. I listened to her response. We talked about how the grocery store treated its employees, how our dogs enjoyed having us home more and how we were holding up, overall, with all of this insanity. I could feel myself relaxing as we spoke. There’s something about talking with someone face-to-face that nothing else can compare to — not even FaceTime or Discord. 

I drive home from the grocery store with a lot more food and a little more hope.