The Pandemic “Diet”: The Privilege of Food Storage and Life Outside Food Deserts

Grocery shopping is not what it used to be. I go in looking like a bank robber and come out with paid for merchandise. I avoid talking to strangers whereas I used to recommend things to people ALL THE TIME. I zip through the store, making as few unnecessary trips back down an aisle if I can help it, a far cry from my pre-pandemic meandering on the hunt for something new. Now, I’ll even toy with the idea, Do I really need it? Whatever ‘it’ is. Other times, I realize (mid aisle) that I was clearly walking down the wrong way when I notice taped arrows running the opposite direction from where my shopping cart was headed. As a foodie, I despise grocery shopping right now. Every time I go now I feel caught off guard by a new trend: an excess of emptied shelves, lines to receive a disinfected cart, sneeze shields, lost access to freely pack up bulk goods.

On June 19th it was mandated we wear face coverings in various establishments, with some exceptions like when out dining. Still, I see people of various ages strolling through grocery stores and places like Target without any sort of mask. It was reported Monday we have 2,196 new cases in Arizona with 3 additional deaths, and the grim totals aren’t great as KTAR News reports an overall total of 54,586 COVID-19 cases and 1,342 deaths. Our community has been incredibly slow to adopt more stringent matters to keep down the number COVID-19 cases with this recent change coming into effect on June 20th, compared to my family–as low risk persons–having our own commuter masks to wear regularly since May 9th. I know we were still slow in adopting the practice of wearing a mask in public, but we have made consistent efforts to practice social distancing. Some of this has been easier on us due to our work allowing for remote shifts, but just as important has been our ability to properly store and prep food.

In one of my last graduate classes, I had the opportunity to look at food assistance programs. Back in 2012, my family needed the support of SNAP after I sustained a long period of unemployment that drained our savings and as a recent collegiate graduate, I was ineligible for unemployment assistance. For my assignment, I focused on Arizona’s Restaurant Meals Program and (at the time) the piloting of EBT online purchases with companies like Amazon. I was curious at how the system can ease difficulties for those with a lack of transportation or mobility concerns, difficulty with food prep and storage, and those impacted by the presence of food deserts. Currently, 19 states now participate in the EBT online purchasing pilot (as of May 20, 2020) which I imagine has helped tremendously during the pandemic to reduce the risk for certain vulnerable populations.

The other side of the situation that I wanted to also reinforce was what it means to have proper food storage and prep resources. This issue, in some of the academic materials I reviewed, makes such a consequential difference in a person’s ability to consume a healthy diet. While these factors are not the only contributors, their significance should not be treated lightly. Perishable foods are costly and even when someone relies on a food pantry or food assistance programs, engages in food rescue, or utilizes a food co-op addressing proper food handling includes access to clean water, cold storage appliance(s) for some ingredients and leftovers, and typically some sort of cooking appliance (oven, microwave, or stove top). Food prep requires utensils, cutting boards, dinnerware, etc.

All of these things take up space and for many, space is yet another source of inequality in our societies.  I delayed this conversation about pandemic food purchasing because I felt it was more important to initially adapt to the situation at hand in March and April. As I waited, it was not hard to come across other conversations about pandemic spending both in the news and on people’s social media accounts. My original plan was to share my thoughts after Memorial Day, presenting a timely capture of spending. With the loss of George Floyd on the heels of other Black Americans lost to police brutality, I knew I had to sit back on this topic. The timing wasn’t right and while it make not be perfect, I do feel it is a better time to write.

My pandemic life started mid March. As a homeowner, I started the wave of changes differently than I would have in our starter home and quite differently than if we had faced this reality as apartment dwellers. Our current kitchen is approximately 135 square feet. Our starter home kitchen technically was larger due to being an eat-in kitchen, but our home upgrade came with numerous opportunities to live better. Our traditional garage arrangement now over the old tandem two car garage meant we had space–again that magic word–to purchase a second fridge and it is parked next to a chest freezer. (The fridge was initially purchased to house packages of chicken for Gregor; he was eating 3 and a half or so pounds of chicken a day.) And if we look even further back into our family history, our apartment kitchen was the least suited to allowing us to purchase an additional week or two of groceries to get by during the pandemic. The kitchen was probably between 50 and 75 square feet.

My May purchases (included below) do not encompass our entire eating or drinking habits for the month. Like months previous, we still purchased some restaurant meals  during busy weekday nights and/or as weekend indulgences. Starting in March, we started to adopt different grocery shopping habits, mostly out of necessity. Our meat consumption dramatically changed as meat was harder to come by and has less frequently been on sale. Since chicken for Gregor then became more expensive, we pulled back on our meat consumption to keep the budget more in check. Before and after the month, we had extra pantry and frozen food on hand and had bought some specialty items like the iberico sausages and the margarita ingredients for Memorial Day weekend. I also made a separate trip to Total Wine and More but since I did not keep the receipt, I did not feel it would be appropriate to just toss a number out there without providing context on the type of alcoholic purchases made.

To also reinforce my point about the privilege of middle class America, we are nowhere near hurting when it comes to cooking appliances, cookware, serve ware, or food storage containers. Our kitchen has an 1100 watt microwave, an oven, a gas cooktop, an InstaPot, a Belgian waffle iron, a four slot toaster, and a sous vide. Our collection of cookware reflects the fact we enjoy cooking. We have a beautiful enameled cast iron Dutch oven, a cast iron skillet, multiple pans and pots, and two sets of measuring cups and spoons. Cooling racks, muffin tins, roasting pans, a donut pan, baking sheets, and a jelly roll pan we use as a baking sheet can also be found tucked behind cabinet doors, plus we have various sizes of cake pans and cutting boards. Our silverware collection could accommodate approximately 16-20 dinner guests but we have half that in our array of cereal bowls, dinner bowls, dinner and side plates. The collection of drink ware is a bit of an embarrassing excess. Tall mason jars, short mason jars, coffee mugs, wine glasses, beer glasses, and plastic cups for life on-the-go. You would think more than three people live in this house.

But that’s why we need to have these conversations. Life during a pandemic varies dramatically. I do not feel guilt for my privilege but it is something I should acknowledge and remember when I complain about rising grocery costs, increased dishwashing, and the lack of items on store shelves. A big concern has been how much it will cost to keep my family fed, but that’s nothing when we consider the fact food insecurity is a rising concern for many.

Lastly, I want to reiterate how wildly different this shared month of grocery shopping is from what we purchased in March and April. The list, with the exclusion of items bought in anticipation of June only put us about $48 more than what I normally want the grocery store budget to be for any given month. I cannot say the same for March when we spent twice our normal budget.

May’s Purchases

Fresh/ Shelf Stable Produce

  • (1) bag organic gala apples (3lbs.)
  • (1) bag organic baby carrots (1lb.)
  • (1) large veggie platter with dip
  • (2) heads organic cauliflower
  • (2) containers organic strawberries (1 lb.)
  • (1) bag lemons (1.2 lbs.)
  • (2) organic leeks
  • (4) fruit cup packs, Del Monte 100% juice (4 cups per pack)
  • (2) green onions
  • (1) Sea Tangle Kelp Noodles (12 oz.)

Frozen Produce

  • (2) bags Ore-Ida Tator Tots (28 oz each)
  • (2) bags broccoli (likely 12 oz. bags)
  • (2) bags peas (likely 12 oz. bags)

Coffee

(1) bag, Stumpton whole bean (12 oz.)

Eggs/Dairy/Butter

  • (2) dozen eggs
  • (1) butterkase cheese (1/2 lb.)
  • (1) package Meyenberg goat milk butter (8 oz.)
  • (1) Chobani Flip yogurt, Peach
  • (7) Chobani yogurts
  • (1) Sargento colby jack sliced cheese
  • (1) 1/2 gallon oat milk
  • (1) Organic Valley low fat milk (1 quart)
  • (1) 4 oz. Organic Valley shredded Parmesan (4 oz.)
  • (1) wedge Parmesan (8 oz.)
  • (2) Montchevre goat cheese (4 oz.)
    • plain
    • honey

Prepared Meals/Meat/Meat Alternatives

  • (2) Against the Grain nut free pesto pizza (24 oz.)
  • (2) Against the Grain uncured pepperoni pizza (24 oz.)
  • (1) Teton Waters Ranch grass fed beef sausage (4 links)
  • (1) Fermin Iberico chourizo (7 oz.)
  • (1) Fermin Iberico salami (7 oz.)
  • (1) Columbus dry coppa
  • (1) Columbus prosciutto
  • (2) packages sliced bacon
  • (1) Organic Prairie ground chicken (12 oz.)
  • (2) 14 oz. Wildwood organic extra firm tofu
  • (2) packs Beyond Meat Beyond Burger patties (2 patties per container)

Bread/Pasta Products

  • (1) loaf Dave’s Killer bread, oats n’ blues
  • (1) Rudi’s sourdough bread loaf
  • (2) packages brioche slider rolls

Pantry/Spice Cabinet

  • (1) jar pickled garlic (12 oz.)
  • (1) jar minced ginger
  • (1) Saffron Road Lemongrass Basil simmer sauce packet (7 oz.)
  • (1) Frontera skiller sauce packet (8 oz.)
  • (1) Arrowhead Mills unbleached all-purpose flour (5 lb. bag)
  • (1) Natural Grocer’s Almond Flour (1 lb. bag)
  • (1) Ian’s Gluten Free breadcrumbs (7 oz.)
  • (1) Aleia’s Gluten Free Italian breadcrumbs (13 oz.)
  • (1) bottle organic dijon mustard
  • (1) St. Dalfour’s black raspberry fruit spread (10 oz.)

Desserts/Snacks

  • (1) Bluebell vanilla ice cream (1/2 gallon)
  • (2) Kroger Deluxe lime sherbert (1.5 quart)
  • (1) pint Dolcezza gelato, Mascarpone & Berries
  • (1) pint Dolcezza gelato, Stracciatella
  • (3) York Peppermint Patties
  • (1) package Oreos, original flavor
  • (1) package Oreos, tiramisu
  • (3) Alt Eco chocolate truffles
  • (1) large bag Lay’s Potato Chips
  • (2) large bags Mission tortilla chips

Beverages

  • (2) Pop & Bottle almond lattes (11 fl. oz)
  • (3) Ginger/Regular Sprite (2 Liters)
  • (2) Monster energy drink
  • (2) Califa Farms Ginger Limeade (48 fl. bottle)
  • (2) Rise Brewing Co. Nitro Cold Brew Coffee Oat Milk Mocha (7 fl. oz.)
  • (6) C2O flavored coconut waters (17.5 fl. oz)
  • (1) Smart Water, 1 Liter each (6 pack)
  • (1) single bottle Voss water
  • (1) 20 oz. Diet Pepsi
  • (3) 8 pack, 12 fl. oz. AHA Sparkling Water (apple + ginger)
  • (4) 8 pack, 12 fl. oz. AHA Sparkling Water (black cherry + coffee)
  • (4) 8 pack, 12 fl. oz. AHA Sparkling Water (citrus + green tea)
  • (3) 12 packs, Diet Sodas (root beer, Dr. Pepper, regular)
  • (4) 2 liters, Kroger seltzer waters
  • (4pk.) Izze Sparkling Juice

Alcoholic/Drink Ingredient

  • (2) Santa Cruz lime juice (16 oz.)
  • (1) container margarita salt
  • (1) organic tequila (750 ml.) ($17.99)
  • (1) Sam Adams Sam ’76 (6 pack)
  • (1) Blue Moon Light Sky (6 pack)
  • (1) Four Peaks green tea lager (6 pack)
  • (1) Absolut vodka soda raspberry and lemongrass (4 pack)  (NOT EVER BUYING AGAIN…so gross!)

Other

  • (2) bagged ice (20lbs. each)
  • (1) bag Solo cups ($6.49)

Gregor’s Dinners

  • (21) whole chickens, mostly free range as they were the easiest to find on a regular basis

Items Bought In Preparation for June (With Some Items Still Frozen and Available for Consumption in July)

  • (1) Lean Beef Brisket ($57.19, still frozen)
  • (1) Pork Shoulder, Picnic ($16.49, still frozen)
  • (1) Pork Shoulder, Picnic ($15.11, still frozen)
  • (2) Foster’s Fryer chickens ($18.20 total, still frozen)
  • (4) packages Foster’s Chicken Thighs (still frozen)
  • (2) packages Foster’s Drumsticks (still frozen)

 

AC0DD2C1-8C3E-4293-B849-09E74C5A7FAE
Pantry (1st Week of June 2020)
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Pantry (1st Week of June 2020)

 

NOTE:

The inconsistent ability to regularly obtain chicken has led to a significant change in our purchasing habits. Gregor started a raw chicken diet back in December and at roughly $8 per whole chicken, it is no longer sustainable to keep him on this healthier alternative to his past kibble diet.

We did find a pretty good quality kibble that is $3 cheaper per day over his raw diet. We dealt with a few days of a hunger strike, but he finally relented and is back to eating every day.

 

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