Gemic

By Jehanne Wyllie

Published

In the coming weeks and months, Gemic will be delving into the experiences of everyday people, taking a glimpse into how “normal” life is being transformed by C-19. 

This week, Gemic goes inside grocery shopping with Jared — a 30-year-old Digital Marketing manager from Brooklyn. An avid and early adopter of online services like Instacart and Amazon Fresh, Jared has recently found himself switching back to brick and mortar. In this photojournal, he gives us a glimpse into “the why” behind this switch and a window into what grocery shopping means going forward.

So, you went grocery shopping again this week?

Ha ha, yes, I did, once again! It used to be that I only went grocery shopping when my fridge was empty and I had to fill an immediate need. Now, I find myself going when my fridge is still about a quarter full. At that point, I know I probably have enough food to last for a week, but I also have no idea what’s going to happen in a week, so there’s more anticipation and more planning these days.

I recall that you were an early adopter of services like Amazon Fresh, but now it sounds like you’re going to the store more often than not

Yeah, I live walking distance from two major grocery stores, but I had been using Prime and Instacart for convenience. But now, I’m finding that they don’t have any time slots for delivery or that I’m literally gambling with the possibility of items disappearing from my cart in the time it takes to set up the delivery. It’s been a pretty frustrating experience and I’ve found myself just wanting a more hands-on experience. 

Also, I think I’ve decided that for me – a relatively young and healthy person with no pre-existing conditions – it just makes more sense to go to the grocery store. It’s weird because it feels like I’ve had to become some kind of a hunter-gatherer, whereas before I would’ve just waited for things to show up. But now, I prefer going into the store and getting that immediate confirmation of seeing items that I know can work. 

Plus, a lot of stuff in my nearby store is local, so I feel like it’s merchandised for me and my neighborhood, not for just anyone and everyone on the internet. It’s the difference between ‘eggs for you!’ and ‘internet eggs.’ 

So what does your actual shopping routine look like now?

Well, I obviously spend more time getting ready, but I’m trying not to go overboard. I’m wearing my mask and my regular clothes. I’m not wearing gloves because I prefer to just touch the things I need to touch and wash my hands afterward, rather than have a false sense of security from the gloves. 

I’ve also started making grocery lists. When this all started, I was literally going to the store and buying everything I could carry, but now I feel like there’s been more consistency and leveling off. It’s almost a sense of normalcy if that makes sense? I don’t expect things to get any worse, so I’m just buying what I need to get by. Part of that is going in with a better understanding of what’s essential – what’s a ‘must-have’ or ‘a need’ vs. just ‘a want’ or a panic purchase. The list helps with that, and I feel more confident that the store will have something of value.

And where are you doing most of your grocery shopping now?

I go to Amazon 360, or rather, Whole Foods 360! Whole Foods is basically the Amazon grocery store in my mind. I figure that because it’s Amazon, they’ll have more options and better variety. That said, I’ve found myself buying a lot more of the Amazon or Whole Foods brand stuff because it’s cheaper and better stocked than other brands.

Can I just say though, that this experience has really made me miss Target, of all places! My Target was always overcrowded and I was always complaining about the people in there, but I didn’t realize how much it meant to me before now. The idea of a one-stop-shop where you could literally buy a latte, a lamp, and frozen pizza – imagine! I really look forward to the day when I can take walks through Target again.  

On that note, how has the in-store experience changed for you?

I definitely have a greater sense of ‘am I going to catch something in this place’ since the risk of catching something is still very real. At the same time, I can’t live in that kind of fear, so I just choose to proceed with caution and pay very close attention to hygiene. It helps that everyone is wearing masks and there’s more regulation over how many people can shop at once. Also, it’s Whole Foods, so people are relatively polite about keeping a safe distance.

That said, you can’t help but notice the slightest bit of competition with other shoppers. It’s those moments when you lock eyes with someone who is also walking toward the last loaf of bread. I’m not necessarily worried about the stores running out of food, but it’s jarring to see empty shelves or shelves with just a single item. I’m seeing that a lot with things like pasta sauce, jelly, frozen foods, deli meats…gone! What are people doing with all the pasta sauce?

That may be why I’m starting to notice brands that I never noticed before. For example, there’s this healthy food brand called Evol – apparently, they’ve been around for a while, but I never noticed them until now, as the shelves are so bare. 

Who or what’s behind all those empty shelves?

I think it’s a combination of panic buying and issues with the supply chain, especially when it comes to labor. It’s crazy to think people might be getting sick to keep me fed. 

I suppose that’s another reason why I’ve been doing more grocery shopping in-store than online – because when I push that delivery button, I know that someone is going to have to go collect those 30 things, put them in several different packages and send them to me. Before, it was a question of people in factories and warehouses in suspect working conditions, but now it’s a question of someone putting themselves and their loved ones at risk to make my packages get delivered, which is unreal. How do you negotiate that as a society, much less a consumer? I don’t know, but I think it’ll be the next frontier for workers’ rights. 

In the meantime, I find myself asking whether I can just find the item I’m looking for on my own, or if I can get it through some other means beyond delivery – at least when it comes to food and drinks. 

How else do you think this experience might change the way you approach grocery shopping?

That’s a good question and to be honest, it will probably depend on how this plays out. Here’s what I can say for sure: I have a much deeper appreciation for what it takes to get food on the shelf and for the workers who make that happen. 

I think we’ve all been spoiled by a culture of on-demand and this moment feels like a good reset on that. Reckoning with the fact that I’m not always going to be able to get exactly what I want to get exactly when I want it, is actually helping me reassess what’s essential. I wouldn’t be surprised if I stopped buying certain things altogether, because I’m realizing they’re not very useful or they don’t add some other value to my life. 

Lastly, I don’t think I’ll ever take Target for granted again. 

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