the illusion of choice

Dear internet,

So we’re not supposed to leave our houses for the next two weeks.

I like working on logistics. Give me a travel itinerary and I will spend many happy hours trying to maximize efficiency. I love trying to find the best laser printer in terms of time/money. I enjoy tracking packages online and spend airline flights poring over the map portion of the in-flight magazine.


As a child I always wanted to be Very Well Prepared, so I read Hints with Heloise* and devoured articles with life tips like how to survive falling overboard on a boat with just your boots as a personal flotation device, or how to fix a toilet without calling the plumber. (Am I a logistics person or more of a MacGuyver at heart?)


You would think that the whole grocery store situation** would be thrilling for me. But, it is not. You can’t maximize efficiency when there are no controls and all the choices keep changing. It’s like going to a casino thinking you are going to make money.


Here are the choices:

  • Go to the grocery store exposing yourself and others to germs BUT you know what is on the shelves and can improvise if needed. No organic chicken breast? That’s fine, warm Spam sammies for all!


  • Wait a week for delivery. Almost impossible to get delivery and it involves setting a 3 am alarm to try to get a spot. Hope that when you do get your groceries they have what you want, because if they don’t, you will be down to dried beans and canned pineapple.


  • Go to the only grocery store that has same-day pick-up. Which sounds so convenient! Almost…too easy. Oh, I see that grocery store is right next to the mass Covid-19 testing center.


Which one will I choose? Which one would you choose?




*Until Hints from Heloise got crappy, when she started publishing “tips” like “Tupperware is a good way to store food. Make sure you put the lid on the container so the food doesn’t dry out!”


  • ** We are not supposed to leave the house at all for the next two weeks, not even to grocery shop, although the exact reason why seems somewhat unclear. Some people are like, “this will kill the virus in its tracks!” and others are like, “if you get sick this week, you will die.” I am not a hobby epidemiologist so I guess maybe everyone is right? But maybe they are wrong?

    safeway delivery truck on the map
    Watching the grocery truck make its deliveries is like tracking santa claus

Banana experiment

Dear internet,

Since we are all scientists now, I performed an experiment to try to get the bananas to ripen sooner. I put half of the bunch in a paper bag with a slice of stale bread for two days and the other half sat next to the raisin bran.

bananas ripening on shelf
The shelf bananas
Bunch of bananas after two days in a brown bag
Brown bag bananas

What do you think?

Not much of a difference. Bananas are harvested green, they probably usually spend weeks in storage, but now they are moving through the supply chain so fast, we have to ripen them at home. So the old paper bag trick doesn’t really work.

Really makes me wonder what all those people buying hatchlings are thinking.



A bag of flax seeds

Dear internet,

What was the craziest thing you considered buying at the outbreak of the coronavirus crisis? For me, it was a bag of flax seeds.

Never in my life have I purchased flax seeds. But let’s back up and explore why I stood there in the seed aisle at the local supermarché, turning over a bag of flax seeds in my hands.

It was March 11. I drove to the supermarket, which I never do (usually il Bambino and I walk to get le baguette and le cold cuts) and parked in the garage. There were no spaces available, which was eerie.

Usually daytime grocery store trips are full of two groups of people: the elderly and childbearing-age adults with a passel of kids. Also, in this particular food store, housekeepers who have been sent out with strict instructions to get 0.3333 pounds of thin-sliced Honey Turkey Breast.

But on that day, the inside the store, it was a bee hive, if the bees’s brains had gotten hijacked by a zombie parasite. Lots of working-age adults steering their carts around in circles, throwing in the most random things. It was as if nobody had ever grocery-shopped before. Which, to be honest, probably a lot hadn’t.

There was nothing on the shelf. No eggs, no milk, no bread, no meat, no bottled water.

Resignedly I went to the flour aisle. I was going to have to bake bread. To my amazement, there were only a few sacks of flour left on the shelf. And only regular yeast, not the instant kind, which is annoying, although with quarantine I guess I would have plenty of time to wait around for two rises.

It was at that point that my brain started to feel a little fear. Fear of the crazy people around me, fighting over the last dented milk carton, the last leaky packet of chicken drumsticks, the last jar of reasonably-priced marinera.

That’s when I spotted a bag of flax seeds. There were, relatively speaking, lots of bags of flax seeds, left on the shelf. Somewhere in my brain I recalled reading that flax seeds are a vegan substitute for eggs. Should I buy these seeds and grind them up to make eggs?

I put the bag of flax seeds back on the shelf.

No. It’s not the other, crazy people who are going to get us. It’s us. Crazy old us.



Scarcity at the Supermarché

Scene: The Supermarché in Upper Northwest. Cleaning products aisle. The shelves are bare. An EMPLOYEE works stocking the shelves. ME slowly pushes empty cart down the aisle.

Employee: What are you looking for?

Me: (with resignation) Rubbing alcohol…

The EMPLOYEE pulls out two mysterious packages.

Employee: Let me give you these. These (he gestures at the packets of sanitizing wipes) You’ll never see these on the shelf. Because I put out ten boxes and then someone comes by with their cart and they buy all 10. I don’t think that’s fair, do you?