3 min
October 16, 2022

A Post-COVID Supermarket Fantasy

The worst part of the pandemic was handing over the reigns of grocery shopping to my husband, Sam.

It was partly because we had a newborn at home. Mostly because I am not nearly as careful as Sam. I’d leave the grocery store, get in the car, take off my mask, and undoubtedly rub my hands all over my face. 

It was less stressful for all of us if Sam did the shopping. 

But now I’m vaccinated. 

Here’s how I imagine my first glorious trip back to the grocery store:

I pull into the lot on a perfectly sunny day and park next to a cart return because I’m not an amateur. As I approach the sliding glass doors, they open wide - as if by magic. 

Even if my list has only five items on it I grab a cart. Otherwise, the thin, metal handle of the basket will make an imprint on my forearm. One must always prepare for splurge purchases! 

I then enter one of two modes. Typically, I’m a contestant on Supermarket Sweep, gracefully speeding down aisles, never backtracking, and breaking record times.

But since it’s been a year, I opt for pedestrian-in-the-park mode and take the scenic route, enjoying the sights and stopping for pictures.

I’m hit with the cold, fresh air of the produce section and my senses come alive. It’s really happening. I’m here! 

And look at all these fruits and vegetables! Just as bright and colorful as I remembered them. I’m tickled by the selection and throw a surplus of vegetables into the cart. I’m positive I’ll find a reason to sautee or roast these zucchini and broccolini - even if for a snack. They will definitely not go to waste, I assure myself. 

There are 14 types of apples but I only want the Galas. They are red and crisp, sweet and tart, with a touch more toward the sweet side. A perfect apple. 

A large sign distracts me: “Locally-Made, Organic.” Something from this section ends up in the cart, most likely a $9 hummus with a shelf life of two days. 

I meander along, taking in the sights. They must pump oxygen in here like a casino because I can’t stop smiling. 

And then I freeze.

Six refrigerators filled with eggs stand before me. I marvel at the many options. It only makes sense to purchase the most expensive brown ones because I want to know the names of the chickens who live on the farm in that neighboring North Carolina town. 

I reach the section dedicated to peanut butter and jelly. This is my jam. The pandemic deprived me of my greatest skill: ingredient detective. Other shoppers walk up and down the aisle as I perform due diligence on various jars of creamy and chunky peanut butter. Rather than avoid eye contact and turn my face away from them - just to be safe - I meet their gaze and smile. We exchange pleasantries and because I haven’t interacted face-to-face with humans for 12 months it somehow feels like a good deed. 

After much deliberation, I gasp with delight at a jar of Big Spoon peanut butter, made with peanuts, pecans, raw wildflower honey, and jacobsen sea salt. I have no idea why jacobsen sea salt is special but it is

I’m halfway through the trip, which is when I make the turn from “health conscious mode” to “I deserve a fucking treat mode,” and toss a bag of Reese’s in the cart. For delicious goodies like Reeses I do not look at the ingredients.* 

I linger at the beautiful cheese counter. It’s been so long since I’ve lingered. For 378 days Sam and I hovered over the kitchen island eating Ritz crackers with swiss cheese and thickly-sliced pepperoni. But now I stare contentedly at the makings for a fabulous cheese and charcuterie board. A crystallized, nutty aged gouda will pair nicely with a savory, wild boar salami. And what’s this? A new item?? Artisanal, crunchy crackers made with cranberries and cashews?! My mind drifts to thoughts of hosting a real, live dinner party. Our antipasto spread is going to be the talk of the town.

Finally, I enter the bakery. Grocery stores are smart. They know this is my last stop, so perhaps I’ll be tempted by those enormous chocolate chip cookies and dense, chewy brownie bites. Sam always skips the sweets, trying to get ready for his summer bod. But I’m in charge now so I get a box of each.

At check out I hold my breath. I hope there’s no one there to bag my groceries. 

No one can bag my groceries as well as I can. Everyone knows that each bag should weigh about the same. Excuse me, did you just put a bottle of laundry detergent next to my daikon radishes? How dare you. And can you ask if I’d prefer paper or plastic before handing over 17 plastic bags of groceries??

It’s okay. Once I’m at my car, I rearrange all the groceries in paper bags the way they should be. And all is right in the world. 

On the drive home, I call my best friend because that’s what car rides are for. Unless of course she doesn’t answer, in which case, car rides are for rolling down the windows, feeling the warm wind on my face, blasting my favorite “shopping list complete” song: Peanut Butter Jelly by Galantis (obviously), and singing at the top of my lungs.  

I can’t wait for my next trip to the grocery store. What was once a tedious chore is now a magical, sensory experience. 

Sometimes it takes a pandemic to remind us of the little things we take for granted. 

*Tip: Regular Reese's peanut butter cups are actually quite messy. Every time I peel back the little wrapper, flecks of milk chocolate fly everywhere, so tiny they melt as soon as they hit their target. So I opt for either the minis with no wrapper, or thin Reeses, which still come individually wrapped but also with no wrapper. (The ratio of chocolate to peanut butter is also more balanced in the thin ones.) You’re welcome. 


Much thanks to Michael Dean for feedback on this essay.