Have you noticed that during these days we’re giving food the honor and care it always deserves?
Just a couple of weeks ago, in those early days of March, before we knew how to deep sanitize, shopping for groceries still had the excitement of stocking up for a camping trip or Super Bowl. Over at Kroger it appeared that what people couldn’t imagine doing without was Pepsi and Coke products. Most carts had cardboard cases of pop in them or plastic-linked bottles slung over the sides. Frozen pizza and ice cream were flying off shelves. Someone had an entire cartload of wine.
One week later, the schools closed and then restaurants, cafes and bars. Broadway went dark, the NBA Tournament was toast, and Wabash students weren’t returning from spring break — unless they had to. March Madness got pre-empted by a new sort of “madness”.
Arriving early at Kroger on one of the first days of spring (which hasn’t been postponed), my fellow shoppers and I stood in the pre-7 a.m. dark. We were about 80-100 strong, and we (most of us) kept social distance as we clenched our jaws and prepared to buy our necessities as swiftly as possible. Some of us wore gloves. We wheeled into the produce section to find lots of empty bins and shelves. That day there was plenty of pizza and ice cream to be had. The spreading pandemic brought us to a new level of awareness, and it was honestly heartening to see it was the healthy things that were gone or in very short supply. We’re talking fresh vegetables like carrots, radishes, cukes, lettuce, carrots and celery. We’re talking apples, oatmeal, raisins, eggs, milk and wholegrain bread. Sure, I was counting on having a small share of each of these, but mostly it was great to see that when the chips are down, people go for the gold. A friend who couldn’t find any milk decided to try plant milk for the first time: well and good. People are baking from scratch and thinking about vegetable gardens. Even without clear national leadership, many Americans are thinking of “Victory Gardens” to bring them some lettuce or broccoli this spring and summer. Or, they’re considering (maybe out of desperation) gardening with the kids. Retailers report a huge run on veggie seeds.
Don’t forget too that our local nurseries, as arms of agriculture, are open and full of plants that can jumpstart your own homegrown summer foods. As a culture, we’re all bound to learn a lot from that enterprise — as people did during World Wars I and II. Granted, the general populace in the 20th century started with lots more gardening wisdom than we have. That said, one of the best gardeners I know is entirely self-taught — by YouTube. He’s one of my heroes and he’s passing his knowhow onto his three young boys. In compliance with CDC rules, your local plant people will keep social distance and bring your order out to the car and facilitate transactions safely too. Give them a call.
If you have a yard to dig in, you can grow food. If you can set a container in the sun, you can grow food. If your lawn is untreated, it’s already making you food. In this time, with our world turned upside down, our habits can be turned around too. A recent Journal Review column reminded people—as we’ve been doing for 50+ years — that those infernal wild onions and crabgrass must be handled by chemicals. I hereby remind people that those wild onions, ramps, lambsquarters, and dandelions, those “weeds,” are food. Clip off some wild onion greens, clean them, and use them like chives or green onions in your cooking. Look for dandelions that still hold their rosette pattern. Pick those greens, clean them, and chop them into your salads. Do it now! Once dandelions start forming their buds, they get bitter fast. Oh, and violets, new fresh ones: toss their leaves, stems and blossoms into salad too.
Nutritionists and dieticians are reminding us in these days to be sure our immune systems are as healthy as they can be. Eating wild, locally foraged food helps. And you’ll even be trendy. Time magazine (before the pandemic) called foraging “the latest obsession of haute cuisine.”
Things are tightening up on the shopping front. Most wear gloves; some wear masks. All our grocery workers now wear gloves. Missing from shelves yesterday were fresh ginger and baking yeast, suggesting lots of good DIY cooking and baking going on. Once we get home, we are now urged to leave things in the garage or outside for awhile. Then sanitize everything you bought, packaged and fresh items alike. What a unique experience it was to wash a bunch of bananas in soap and water.
Do you find yourself treating groceries with more respect and honor? Are bread heels becoming croutons? Does a bit of leftover sour cream from takeout nachos become a rich ingredient in a galette crust? Do you treasure each orange? Divide it in half instead of noshing down the whole thing? Do you look at spears of fresh asparagus in wonder and thanksgiving?
Often our creative, exuberant kids get with the revised program sooner — and they think bigger. A friend reported that one of her kids said, “Now that we have more time, can we get a cow?”
Time to suit up for grocery shopping: Remember, don’t touch what you’re not going to buy, move swiftly, don’t buy anything marked WIC (moms with little kids need those). If you are one of those moms, we want you to have that “kids need this” food. And, treat your grocery workers well. They’re our heroes now. They are risking their health so we can survive and thrive.
Dr. Helen Hudson contributes her column Real Food.