Wednesday, April 15, 2020

More than a Vegetable Quest

Somebody on Facebook said he realized what he misses are non-essential businesses and touching his face. I miss browsing vegetables. I miss grocery shopping.

It’s hard enough saying goodbye to the farmers’ markets in the fall, those luscious, healthy, green and orange and red and gold vegetables in all their glory. But at least I could go to the grocery store and see my vegetables up close. I could observe them, evaluate them, choose them.

But now I’m supposed to use the free pickup service, to send in my list and have some stranger decide which bananas to give me. Would they be the just right greenish-about-to-ripen ones, neither too big nor too stubby? And what about asparagus – would they choose the young, skinny ones or the old, fat, stalky ones? If the eggplants were no good, how could they revise the menu I’d planned and skip the mozzarella if they didn’t know what meal the eggplants were for?

Obviously, this is a control issue. In our upside down world where we’re losing control over so much – seeing friends, teaching students in person, being able to travel – here I am, fretting over being able to pick my own vegetables.

My friends say, “Stay inside.” My friend Margie says, “Adapt.”

She’s right. This is just my own personal stumbling block. I have to get over it.

So I do. I go online to the Fred Meyer website and am pleasantly surprised by the range of selection: they have photos of everything, detailed descriptions of brands, and even a whole catalog of things I’ve purchased in the past. I’m so relieved, I don’t even freak out about how much Fred Meyer and Kroger know about me.

I place our order, but pickup is five days out. Although I’m still just cooking dinner – same as what I did Before – it’s now a much bigger process. I don’t cook meat, so I rely on vegetables. But now I have to plan meticulously, maximize my resources without any waste, get what I need because I can’t just dash out if I forget something, make sure I use all the spinach before it goes bad. It feels like a strategic operation, a battle plan. It takes way more time.

But all goes smoothly. A friendly young man delivers the groceries to our car. We get home, stage some things in the garage, wipe down the other things. The bananas are just right, so is the zucchini, the eggplant, the green pepper. But what’s this? Where I’d asked for about four stalks of celery, I now have four whole bunches of celery.

What can someone do with four bunches of celery?

At least it’s not what happened to my friend, Michele: she ordered four chicken thighs and got four PACKAGES of ten thighs each.

My friend Sharon of the 400+ cookbooks went on a research mission to find me celery recipes. I now have jars of pickled celery brewing, but the most promising recipe, the one that could make a real dent in four bunches, called for Half & Half. I didn’t have Half & Half.

So, for the first time since before quarantine, I donned my double-layer-batik-quilt-fabric mask and went into society. I went to Fred Meyer very early. The store was mostly empty. I passed by an enticing, colorful, delicious-looking produce section – oh the temptation! – but raced to the dairy cabinet and grabbed the Half & Half.
The cashier was behind Plexiglas, but afterwards, I felt compelled to thank her for being there, for coming to work, for being so essential to us all. She thanked me, told me to have a nice day. But when I got home, I realized that in thanking her, I was probably beyond the Plexiglas. I’d probably leaned closer, probably closer than 6 feet. I’d put us both in terrible danger!

I thought of the 1980s, when I lived in San Francisco and friends were dying of AIDS right and left. One night, a gay friend called me, totally distraught: he had just had unprotected sex – what had he done?!? How could he have been so reckless?!?

That’s how I felt for starting a conversation with a grocery store cashier.

Unprotected conversation. How could I have been so reckless?!?


  1. I am trying to visualize a recipe that requires celery AND half and half . . . Oh, I think I have it. Cream of celery soup?

    Try to think of shopping as helping to provide job security for others, and not as endangering them. You stayed home for two weeks after you came back. You are not likely to be contagious. You wore a mask. You did good!


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