Commentary: A trip to the supermarket? These days it’s a real adventure

Commentary: A trip to the supermarket?  These days it’s a real adventure
File photo/CHEK
A grocery store worker behind a protective plexiglass in Greater Victoria.

Ian Haysom’s coronavirus diary will appear here regularly.

I am standing in the middle of the supermarket aisle and I am dithering. I am not supposed to dither. I am supposed to consult my shopping list and manfully and swiftly and purposefully set about Getting The Shopping Done.

I am dithering over nuts. There are nuts on the list, but what kind of nuts. Cashews, macadamia, walnuts, peanuts? Pecans? No, haven’t had a pecan pie in years. A coconut? No, we never buy coconuts. Decisions, decisions.

It’s not supposed to be like this. The mayor of Osaka, Japan’s third-largest city, said men are more effective shoppers than women and they should do trips to the supermarket because they wouldn’t, well, dither.

Mayor Ichiro Matsui implied male grocery shoppers would reduce the potential spread of the virus as they would spend less time in shops. “Women take longer time grocery shopping because they browse through different products,” he told a press conference. “Men quickly grab what they’re told to buy so they won’t linger at the supermarket – that avoids close contact with others.”

The statement brought a predictable backlash and the hapless mayor began a public relations tap-dance, but here I am proving that dithering is non-gender specific. In fact, my wife is a much more focused shopper than I am. I like to wander around and discover new products, like meatless meatballs in hot sauce or bacon-wrapped oysters or even, look longingly, at chocolate.

This is my first trip to a food store in six weeks. Normally, I food shop in dribs and drabs, when we need it. Suddenly, food shopping, during The Virus, has become a perilous exercise and I have been excluded because I’m considered vulnerable.

But I enjoy my occasional guilt trips to Wholefoods Market at Uptown, so here I am at 8 a.m. in the morning, when those over the age of 60 are allowed to shop ahead of the 9 a.m. opening, and I am feeling somewhat edgy. Who knew shopping could be dangerous?

There are just four of us lined up just before 8 a.m., me, a woman on her own and a couple in their 80s, I’m guessing. The other three are in masks. I don’t have one. I admire the woman’s mask. “Yes, my partner made it, it’s very stylish,” she said, and I immediately experience mask envy. Who’d have thought mask envy was a thing. Her mask is a paisley blue and doesn’t look threatening at all. I’ve always found white masks intimidating, but this was friendly, low key.

“It doesn’t help me,” she pointed out, “it will just stop me from infecting you but you can infect me,” and I said thank you, took a huge step back and felt immediately selfish. At times like this, it’s good not to cough.

We were let in by employees in masks and disposable gloves and pointed to newly-disinfected carts and baskets. I pulled out a trolley and a disposable wipe and double disinfected the handle. Can’t be too careful.

The four of us walked in and immediately headed for the same bunch of cauliflower. “Sorry, after you,” I said, and we all backed away, and stood there momentarily in a kind of COVID game of statues before I thought, I’ll go from the bottom of the list rather than the top – where the vegetables were – and headed over to the nuts. Which is where my dithering began.

So I dithered for a while and then picked up mixed nuts, and then I was on a roll. I ticked off a few things – milk and yogurts and Beyond burgers and such – and then headed back to the veggie section where more people had arrived. One of the newly-arrived women clearly looked much younger than 60 and I did, for one brief moment, think of asking her age, but nobody had asked me mine, even if I look closer to 40, or maybe even 35, so I let it go.

And then: scallions.

What the hell are scallions? My wife had written scallions on the list, and I knew they were oniony but I wasn’t quite sure. I went over to the onion section and found some shallots and thought, well that’s obviously what she meant, and filled up a bag. But then I had second thoughts. I found an assistant, face-masked, and asked where the scallions were.

“There,” she said, “just on that wall by the lettuce. I couldn’t see any scallions. Just spring onions. “I can’t see them,” I said, picking up the spring onions. “You’re holding them,” she said.

Now you probably know that spring onions are scallions, but I didn’t. In fact, they aren’t, as I discovered when I Googled them when I got back home, but they are pretty close, interchangeable in fact, though I’m sure you purists will disagree and complain to the management.

The rest of the shopping went well. The supermarket wasn’t crowded, and though I had a popcorn moment – the Orville Redenbachers had sold out so I bought gourmet organic popping corn in a bag, which was a tad disconcerting, but nothing ventured, nothing popped.

And then to the tills. They were cordoned off, and the people at the checkout wore masks and stood behind see-through screens, and it was all very efficient and, as far as I could tell, extremely safe.

I used my debit card, tapped in my number on the pin pad with my index finger wrapped in the aforementioned disposable wipe.

An aside here. I think this pandemic will speed the demise off real cash. I have no money in my wallet. The only coins I have are those that have fallen between the cushions on the couch.

Money today? It’s all tap tap tap. The debit and credit card are king

We have been moving inexorably towards the cashless society for some time, and millennials laugh at their parents for hanging onto real cash, for heading to cash machines when money today is virtual.

Nothing is real, as John Lennon once said.

I put the groceries in the car, dribbled some sanitizer on my hands, and went home feeling quite proud of myself. I’d done a shop to last us a week in under 35 minutes. The mayor of Osaka would be proud.

The next day, I said, why don’t we have cheese sandwiches for lunch.

“You forgot to get cheese,” said my wife.

Oh, I said.

“And bread,” she added.

I’m fast. I didn’t say I was good. But I do have a lovely bag of shallots.

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Ian HaysomIan Haysom

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