In the last few months, going to the grocery store has turned from a mundane task to a tactical mission with lots of preparation. Gone are the days of grabbing one or two things on the way home from somewhere or grabbing some ice cream on a whim. Now there are meal plans laid out, long lists created and masks worn — and if something is forgotten, it will be bought in a week or two on the next trip.
Our photographers around the world shared the essentials they are buying, how they prep and staples that are nearly impossible to find. From temperature checks in Bangkok to business as usual in Moscow, this is how five people are shopping around the world during the pandemic.
Phillip Reed in Manhattan
My wife and I are trying to keep our trips to the supermarket to once every two weeks, but most of the time it ends up being once a week, as we normally forget some things or run out of milk. Our staples when we go to the store have been milk, butter, fruit, vegetables and ice cream. In the beginning toilet paper and pasta were hard to find but most items are back in stock now. Flour and full-fat milk seem to be in short supply.
Going to the supermarket in Manhattan has become a process that involves extensive planning. We make a list to ensure we get everything we need, plan our visits to coincide with quieter hours, make sure we wear face masks and bring hand sanitizer. In the store we practice social distancing along with everyone else, which means sometimes having to go the long way around the aisles to get to certain items.
When we get home we spend at least 20 minutes cleaning the groceries. We used to shop more sporadically and pick up items as needed, but that’s changed. We have become a lot more organized with our grocery shopping as a result.
Andre Malerba in Bangkok
While the Western world panicked over a lack of toilet paper, the only item to disappear from the shelves in Bangkok was eggs. They go in, on or with almost every meal, and it seemed people could not do without them. Then it was announced the sale of alcohol would be prohibited for a minimum of two weeks, and everyone rushed to buy as many cases of Chang beer as possible.
For my own safety and peace of mind, I set a shopping schedule of Monday and Friday mornings to avoid the afternoon and weekend rush and to catch the shelves as they were being freshly stocked after, and before, said rush. Supermarkets tend to be crowded on evenings and weekends, as a lot of people are still following relatively normal work hours. Many jobs in Thailand cannot be performed from home, so only certain sectors have been shut down while others remain operational.
After the security guard does a temperature check, the trip through the store is hurried. Armed with a list, I quickly get the items I need while trying to avoid the other shoppers. Packages are grabbed from the back of the shelves to lower the risk of getting pre-handled or sneezed-on items. With my basket full, I make my way to the checkout area, featuring social distancing markers that are definitely not spaced far enough apart.
Arriving home is both a relief and the worst part of buying groceries. I stand there sweaty, before touching anything in my home, including the air conditioner, rubbing alcohol over every piece of packaging. Any unwrapped items, or items in mesh bags like onions and garlic, I leave up to fate.
I try to eat almost every meal at home. Most street food vendors and markets have closed or do takeout only. Through no fault of their own, most cannot afford single-use gloves or proper masks, and like many people, can be seen wearing the mask only over their mouth and not their nose, or handling their mask regularly throughout the day.
As restaurants and food stalls reopen, how do we know when to return to “normal” life even if instructed to do so? For the foreseeable future, I will be sticking to my Monday and Friday trips to the grocery store.
Marie Eriel Hobro in Honolulu
Before the coronavirus hit Honolulu, my family would buy groceries whenever we needed them, often multiple times a week. Now, it’s a planned event. To minimize my parents’ exposure, I’m usually the person who goes to minimize. I used to eat at restaurants a lot, but I’ve been eating mostly home-cooked meals lately. At least my wallet is happier.
While the list varies depending on what my family is cooking that week, we always have bread, rice, vienna sausages, chocolate chip waffles, deli meat, chicken breasts, kimchi, eggs, some sort of milk, shoyu (soy sauce), sesame oil, and random fruits and vegetables. Even though I’m lactose intolerant, I always buy ice cream and pizza because I like to live life on the edge.
I’ve also been trying to re-create foods I normally get from local restaurants, such as Spam musubi, pad thai, summer rolls and ramen. The one thing I can’t re-create is the dim sum I used to get almost every week from Duck Lee in Honolulu. It’s one of my favorite things in the world. Sadly, my cravings aren’t essential enough to drive 40 minutes into the virus hotspot of Oahu. My family also eats a lot of poke (the real local kind, not the fancy New York City version), but we’ve been laying off on it for the time being because it’s eaten raw. I dream of the day that I can have a spicy ahi poke bowl and pork hash again."
Nanna Heitmann in Moscow
For me, nothing has really changed. I am out working through the crisis, so the supermarket is my smallest worry these days. The supermarket is in my building, so I go there nearly every day because I’m very bad at planning what I will eat and always forget to buy something.
In Moscow, there was panic shopping for only about two days, when there were rumors that the city would shut down completely. Otherwise everything is in stock, but prices on products have increased. My mother’s friend whom I go to the supermarket for because she is afraid panics that soon there might be no longer be cigarettes available. I can imagine that there will be shortages or difficulties in supply due to logistics and closed borders.
Omar Lucas in Lima
I have never especially liked shopping, but going to the supermarket these days has become quite an expedition. I go only twice a week and try to buy as many things as I can carry on my walk home. I go early to try to avoid the line of people.
At the supermarket, an employee checks that you are wearing gloves and a mask before entering and sprays your hands with a disinfectant. At checkout, they have put glass partitions to guarantee the distance between workers and customers. And you experience great joy when you find the products you are looking for.
Flour is the new toilet paper. And there’s no beer either! Of any kind! The company that monopolizes the market in Peru has changed the production of alcoholic beverages for water. So finding a bottle, even a small one, is better than finding a treasure.
If you live alone, in addition, your pocket will be especially affected. Everything now has to be bought in family sized, so I put in my basket bags of 10 rolls, cartons of 12 eggs and sauces in containers of 400 grams. I confess, I feel half silly with my cloth bag in hand, when I see that now, more than ever, it is impossible to buy anything that does not come in plastic.