Shopping scares me.
No, I’m not talking about wasting hard-earned cash that I need on a bunch of stuff that I don’t, although that also scares me. I’m talking about food shopping during Covid.
From timing your trip so you miss the crowds, to waiting in lines because you couldn’t time your trip to miss the crowds, to avoiding oncoming shoppers careening their carts the wrong way down one-way aisles, if a shopping trip doesn’t induce Covid, it certainly can induce stress.
So I shop for food as infrequently as possible these days. If shopping stresses you out, the following ideas can help you stay home longer between trips.
Be less picky
I would never recommend you eat food that tastes bad or food that has gone bad but is it really so bad to eat your favorite dish three nights in a row? How about two nights in a row, followed by something different the next night, followed by your third serving of what you had on nights one and two?
If you do the cooking in your home, you probably don’t have much of a problem eating the same dishes a few days in a row but the people you live with might. If so, perhaps hand them an apron.
On the topic of picky eating, sure Big Food has normalized the conviction that we can and should eat what we want when we want it no matter what the season or where we live. “You can have it all!” marketers tell us. Except we can’t if the “all” in having it all includes clean air, clean water and healthy soil. From intensive industrial agriculture, to highly processed unhealthy food, to plastic-packaged everything, our global food system of convenient abundance has created a huge mess.
Cook a meal with what you find in your refrigerator and pantry
I have stumbled onto some of my favorite dishes cooking this way. A while ago, I looked through the refrigerator and found ingredients to make a delicious pasta sauce. Into my food processor, I whirred up:
- Finely chopped half onion (bottom right) and a bit of celery that I had first sautéed
- Flesh of half a roasted kabocha squash (roasted vegetables can become many other things)
- Nutritional yeast
- Homemade broth (made from scraps)
- Salt to taste
- Vinegar to taste
Be sure to taste frequently along the way as you cook this way!
With the semolina and sourdough starter discard (the two middle bowls in the right of the above picture), I made homemade pasta for the pasta sauce. I’m sorry I don’t have a recipe for this pasta. But basically, you combine the two ingredients to make a very stiff dough. Knead it, let it rest, then roll it out and shape it. (You can find more detailed pasta recipes here and here.)
This made a delicious dish. Had I overlooked these ingredients and concluded we had nothing to eat, I would have gone to the store immediately to buy more food. Trip averted!
Have I mentioned how much money I save cooking this way?
Buy more food when you shop (with one caveat)
Before you buy more food than usual, make sure you have a plan for it. Otherwise you may waste food and money. Can you and your family easily go through 25 pounds of flour? Then stock up and buy the 25 pounds of flour.
I bought 40 pounds of Early Girl tomatoes at the farmers’ market two weeks ago—I like to make these food acquiring sorties worth my while—to process and have on hand in the winter. I do this every year near the end of tomato season when tomato prices plummet.
Thanks to the magic of fermentation, I now have 10 pounds of fermented tomatoes stashed away in the refrigerator to enjoy later. (If I had a cold cellar or very cold basement, I could store them in there and not use any energy whatsoever). I’ll strain these a little bit to make either a quick pasta sauce or any dish that calls for canned tomatoes. I save the liquid to drink. It contains lives cultures and tastes delicious!
I roasted and froze another 20 pounds of these tomatoes. (I also could have canned them.) You can freeze all kinds of food, such as an extra loaf of bread (I use my homemade cloth produce bags to freeze whole loaves for a couple of weeks) or milk or part of that giant vat of soup you made with all those extra vegetables you bought.
Avoid wasting food
This is pretty self-explanatory. The less food you throw away, the less often you’ll need to go to the store. Go here for my latest newsletter with 21 simple tips to reduce food waste. And please sign up for my newsletter!
Take turns shopping with a friend or neighbor
In some cases, the Covid crisis has strengthened communities. In the condo complex of my bookings manager, Cecilia, families been sharing what they have over the last several months. Cecilia brews kombucha for everyone, another neighbor gives away excess vegetables from their garden, and, with playgrounds in the area closed, everyone pitched in to make a safe place outside for the kids in the complex to play.
This can extend to shopping. You could ask your friends or neighbors what they need before your next trip to the store or farmers’ market. If you develop a shopping buddy system, with one of you shopping one week, the other the next, you’ll reduce the number of each other’s trips by half.
And when you do shop, please shop small if you can
According to Fortune, nearly 100,000 small businesses that intended to shut down temporarily due to Covid have permanently closed, with Black-owned businesses hit the hardest. Remaining small businesses need our support.
When you shop small, your dollars stay in your community rather than going to the offices of far-flung giant corporations. You help create jobs. The people who fill those jobs go on to spend their paychecks in your community. Your community grows stronger. Plus small businesses actually pay taxes unlike some online empires that, using various tax credits and deductions, pay $0 in federal tax on billions in earnings. Yes, you and I each pay more federal income tax than some billion-dollar corporations. When we shop with these wannabe (or actual) monopolies, we essentially say we’re okay with this system. If we want our small shops to survive, we have to support them.
As one of many perks to shopping small, small businesses will more likely fulfill your outrageous, subversive requests, such as “please fill my jar with chocolate chips.” At a family owned store near me, the staff member who filled the above jars with bulk food was happy to do so. She didn’t act as though I was a complete weirdo and she thanked me for shopping in the store.