There are lots of basic things about being an adult that I’ve never quite mastered.
Planning menus and shopping for my own food is not one of them.
I love coming up with a diverse mix of recipes each week, making my list, and wandering through the produce section surveying my options. Selecting leeks in delicious anticipation of sautéing them to buttery softness. Peering inside a pint of raspberries to make sure they’re fresh enough to provide the perfect topper of bright, firm sweetness for my bowl of yogurt or oatmeal. I take great pleasure in knowing every item I decide to buy might lead me down a different road of culinary inspiration, depending on my mood.
I enjoy chatting with the clerks at my local stores who all know and remember me because I’m a frequent customer, asking them about their families, running into people from my neighborhood and holding the doors for them so they can push their strollers inside the store.
My passion for grocery store shopping might have started when I was a kid, when I lived to go to the market with my mom.
I am one of three daughters and the middle child, so being the center of my mom’s attention for a little while without my sisters around was everything. She would put me in the cart and we’d wander down the aisles of possibilities, just the two of us. When we’d stop at the deli, the guy behind the counter always gave me a tiny piece of cheese to try. My Mom still loves to tease me and tell people that when I was really little, I’d proudly hold up whatever I was tasting and declare, “I charge of cheese!”
A few years later, when my sisters and I were learning to cook our own meals, my mom turned going to the grocery store into a scavenger hunt. We were responsible for making our lists of what we needed to make our meals that week (we took turns making dinner on nights she worked late). She’d send us off to find the right things and bring them back to her. It was fun, us running up and down the aisles wearing our leotards and tights from dance lessons or whatever after-school activity where she had just picked us up.
As a result, I grew up associating grocery store shopping with resourcefulness, creativity, the knowledge that if I searched hard enough I’d find the right thing to make something wonderful.
With farmers markets, it’s the same way.
When I first moved to Washington, D.C., after a nasty divorce and didn’t have money to spend on shiitake mushrooms or the fancy lavender lemonade they sold at the Dupont Farmer’s Market, I’d still go there every Sunday to remind myself that I’d eventually figure out how to get back on my feet again. I had a tiny budget at the time, but I’d always make a point of buying one special thing to cheer myself up, like going through the “sad tomatoes” bin my favorite vendor always provided that was filled with bruised and ugly fruits no one wanted to buy. I’d carefully pick out and purchase a bunch of them and turn them into homemade tomato sauces, chilis, and other budget-friendly meals to keep me sated during a time when I was starving for abundance.
Right now, all of us are starving for abundance.
We don’t have the tactile experience of squeezing avocados to see if they’re ripe enough to be perfect the next day or sampling a piece of fresh bread at the bakery. And that’s on top of missing kisses, hugs, sex, stimulation of any kind that isn’t from ourselves and the inside spaces of wherever we live. Even those of us with partners and families have to be careful, keeping our distance from our friends and loved ones, washing our hands furiously every five seconds. We can’t have people over for dinner parties to catch up on our lives anymore and video chats trying to capture this feel like digitally distilled consolation prize versions of the real thing. It really sucks.
Like many people, I’m following compliance to avoid grocery stores as much as possible and order my food online. I stare joyously at the Amazon shopping cart every week, filling it with options that may or not be available. I often forget ingredients, even after making a list, because I’m not there in person remembering what I need as I look at it. Somehow I always end up buying too much cheese. Then there’s the uncertainty of delivery and refreshing the purchase page until a few time slots open up, something I attempt several times a day because they are snatched up quickly.
The other night when I did this, several of my ingredients were out and substitutions were suggested. I probably overwhelmed my shopper, texting him words of thanks, letting him know how much I appreciated him getting food for me. When we dropped everything off, we chatted for a few minutes, six feet apart, and I told him again how thankful I was he was helping people get groceries they needed. It was a little bit too much, but I felt so grateful, sad and nostalgic for grocery shopping all at once.
Thoughts I’m keeping close to the heart
The ability to buy any food these days, online or in person, is a privilege. The opportunity to share abundance is a responsibility. Who are the people out there who need to feel more in charge of their lives by having the food to take care of themselves and their families? Who needs the creative inspiration for cooking? So, so many human beings, across the world.
Lately, I’m shifting gears and channeling all my creative energy I used to spend shopping for ingredients into other endeavors, like reaching out to people who are lonely, writing, drawing, donating money to causes I care about, watching Jose Andres and Padma Lakshmi cook with their daughters on Instagram and Andres doing incredible outreach through the World Central Kitchen #ChefsForAmerica Initiative. I’m chasing down freelance, reconnecting with old contacts and finding new ones. This is how I’m feeding my head, nourishing my soul, seeking out new energy and community and readying myself for what’s next.
Whatever the future holds, it has to be more about sharing abundance so people are empowered to feel creative, inspired and in charge of their futures, through their access to what they need — not just in the kitchen, but in education, health care, and other critical areas of support. We can no longer afford to starve people of the autonomy to build lives they can be proud of.
I hope for many people, this begins with cooking and finding food, in their gardens, from their neighbors, through their online grocery shopping adventures. I hope they realize how strong and resourceful they are and that their potential to create something delicious and wonderful will nourish them until the next chapter begins.