It was exactly two years ago today that my sister and I hopped in her sedan and drove two hours to our parents’ house to grocery shop for them before the “two-week” shelter in place began. This was at the height of the grocery shopping panic, when aisles where we’d normally find toilet paper and canned goods were somehow both empty and chaotically disheveled at the same time. No one was yet wearing masks or gloves, and everyone was crammed into aisles, waiting in winding lines to pay for multiple carts full of groceries.
I hope to never experience that particular instance again, but in the months (and years) that followed, grocery stores quickly adapted to make shopping safer and easier for everyone. However, as mandates across the country start to drop, so too do COVID-era practices that have substantial merit.
Most recently, Costco announced that on April 18 it will no longer be offering special shopping hours for members over 60, healthcare workers, and first responders, USA Today reports. Costco has also recently updated its masking policy to match whatever the rules are in each location’s city or state, so masks are no longer required in most locations. Even as COVID cases drop and we head closer to the light at the end of the tunnel, these are some grocery store practices that we should uphold, for personal and practical reasons.
One of the greatest lessons learned at a population level during the pandemic is how to protect people who are most vulnerable to infection. And that goes beyond just COVID-19—there will always be flus and stomach bugs and common cold germs that we have to worry about. Setting aside hours where folks who are most likely to have a worse reaction to any kind of sickness can safely do their shopping makes sense.
This designated time also allows seniors or people with disabilities to take their time shopping and getting any assistance they need without worrying about a bustling crowd. It’s an overall more comfortable experience for those who might require it.
One of the greatest joys of pandemic grocery shopping for me personally is that not one stranger has touched my shoulder or tried to squeeze behind my back to just “grab something real quick.” No one anywhere should be touched without their permission anyway, and if it takes the fear of contracting a deadly virus to make that the norm, I’ll take it. Allow people their space while shopping, both for health reasons and common courtesy. No one wants to feel crowded when trying to choose between endless brands of butter.
And while you are doing that browsing, keep your decision making as visual as possible. There’s no need to touch every single jar of pasta sauce or squeeze every melon before making your choice, is there? If you simply must, use hand sanitizer directly before and directly after.
It’s about time we properly mourn the loss of the salad and hot bars. While I will admit that I am among those who frequented such areas in the store prior to the pandemic, the thought now of loose food sitting out where anyone can touch or cough or breath on it (especially in areas where mask mandates are out) is too much to bear.
There’s also the possibility that this will reduce food waste in the end—and if grocery stores are not turning over the tubs of lettuce or chicken wings that sit out all day, that’s all the more reason to stop eating whatever is on display in those bars. We need to say goodbye to these little germ kiosks once and for all.
While services like Instacart and Amazon Fresh existed pre-pandemic, local grocery stores have since adopted their own virtual ordering systems for pickup and sometimes delivery.
Here in Chicago, Jewel-Osco allows customers to place orders through the app and then either wait for home delivery or simply drive up to the store, park in a designated spot, and have a worker place the bagged groceries directly in your trunk. This type of service is not only convenient and efficient for the customer, but helps keep grocery store workers from interacting with more potentially sick people every day.
No longer do I worry about being judged by a grocery clerk when stopping at the store for a bag of cat food, a tub of macaroni salad, and a box of wine. Self-checkout is not only a way for me personally to avoid feeling shame, but it also often speeds up the checkout process, cuts down on potential germ sharing, and allows for you to bag your groceries however you like.
For me, that means filling up a backpack and tote to cut down on waste in the form of plastic or paper bags, and it allows me to be strategic with how I pack things without accidentally taking out some misplaced anger on the innocent person bagging my food in a way I wouldn’t have. These days, if my bread gets squished, I have no one but to blame but myself.
As much of the population struggled to keep work and a steady income throughout the pandemic, communities got creative to help out those in need. In New York, Friendly Fridges kept fridges full of free food outside of bodegas, restaurants, and residences. Chicago-based nonprofit Alt_ set up art installations and free groceries in abandoned spaces across the city to help people who were affected not only by coronavirus but the protests following the death of George Floyd, specifically focusing on food deserts on the south and west sides. No matter what happens with the future of grocery shopping, here’s hoping that we continue to look out for one another and make sure everybody eats.