WEGMANS USED to be my happy place. All the shelves packed with possibilities. Cremini and shiitake mushrooms waiting to be stir-fried. Bins filled with different kinds of apples—which should I try today? Fresh-baked breads calling out to me. I loved the abundance of the stores, especially crowded ones: so much food, so many happy people.
All that’s over for now. I knew the magic was dying when my husband pulled me away from the women handing out samples of Irish bangers. “No samples, no,” he said. We were in the first days of the current crisis. Schools were still open, but we knew there were troubled days ahead. He tossed a package of bangers into our already full cart.
That cart wasn’t full of possibilities, it was filled with protection. As if I could save my family with an abundant supply of tomato sauce and pasta. Flour, butter and eggs would bake a wall against the danger outside. A bag of oranges would keep them safe.
Now, we walk anxiously down the aisles, maintaining a discreet distance from our fellow shoppers. The paper-goods aisle reminds me of pictures of Cold War–era markets in the Soviet Union, where. if you saw a line of people, you just joined it automatically. Who cared what was being sold? If there was a line, you must need it. You want to clear an aisle today? Just cough and watch the other shoppers scatter as fast as they can.
The panic buying is over. Now we have a carefully built list, designed to ensure we don’t need a return trip for many days. Designed to keep us away from the store.
Thankfully, after we get back home and wipe down the boxes and put everything away, there’s still the familiar pleasure of cooking the food. My sons are extra-appreciative of everything I make, and I’m getting a lot of thank-you hugs. Ben, a college refugee, eats everything I make and acts as if it’s 5-star cuisine. Sam is enjoying the parade of lazy breakfasts and late dinners: why rush?
During our infrequent trips to the market, I thank every worker there. My heroes are the supermarket stockers and checkers. One day things will go back to normal, but I hope I’ll never forget to say thank you. I think I’ll love the supermarket even more then.
—Stephanie Witt Sedgwick
LittleBird “Stephanie Cooks” is former Recipe developer and food columnist for the Washington Post.