The Atlantic: The Pandemic Shows Us the Genius of Supermarkets


Haulers consider produce one of the most difficult and temperamental loads to run. The Department of Agriculture’s guide to “Protecting Perishable Foods During Transport by Truck” is high on drama and full of inspiration for the aspiring horror writer: chilling injury, highway shock, mold attacks, sunken skin, “pitting and physiological breakdown.” Each fruit and vegetable has its own rider specifying its preferred travel conditions. Apples, for instance, are most comfortable between 30 and 32 degrees Fahrenheit, unless they’re Cortland, McIntosh, or Yellow Newtown Pippins, which desire an ambience 8 degrees warmer. Truck drivers must also know which foods do not get along. Apples are gassy; they release ethylene, which causes bananas, Brussels sprouts, kiwis, carrots, and a long list of other produce to brown or ripen prematurely. Other fruit is deliberately gassed: Strawberries are sealed in packaging into which carbon dioxide is injected, and grapes are often fumigated with sulfur dioxide. Garlic affects apples and pears the same way it affects us, which is to say, it makes them smell like garlic. Summer squash, poor thing, is “easily wounded,” while the humble potato turns out to be a mini miracle that, even after it has left the ground, can self-heal a nick by essentially growing new skin.

Queen Elizabeth II visits a Giant Food in Maryland. (Paul Popper / Popperfoto / Getty)

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What popped out to me from the article was 13 minutes average visit. Jeepers.

Our shops tend to be an hour shopping. If technology is on our side (hand scanners or smart phone apps) check-out takes two minutes. It took us twenty minutes yesterday morning to scan at the self-checkout when the hand scan system was down. Didn’t save us any time in the aisles. I’m at least as fast as the cashiers at scanning and self-checkout generally doesn’t have lines.

What the heck do you do in 13 minutes? How often are people shopping?

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We’re a small household, and up until the virus hit we were shopping like we did when we lived in NYC–multiple trips per week, just getting what we needed at that time. I’d often spend more time waiting than shopping. And now, I go in with a list and just try to blitz my way through the store.


So are we. Two people and a cat. We build a weekly meal plan that uses up what fresh produce we have and any proteins that are in the fridge. The meal plan drives the shopping list. Pre-virus we shopped every two weeks with a monthly warehouse store shop during an off week. My wife and I found independently that good planning saves a lot of money and reduces food waste.

When I was single and living on my boat with a tiny fridge and freezer I still shopped every week to ten days.

Nowadays I am a speed shopper too. I buy for two households (2 person and 1 person). I can get it done in about 30 minutes plus or minus, depending if I have to wait at the deli counter or to keep social distancing from others intact.

I remain in awe of how nimble my local supermarket has been throughout the various shortages. I have been able to lean on them for nearly all the supplies I used to shop for In-person at multiple stores.

Before I did a weekly shop for just my husband and me at a more leisurely pace, and as a shared activity.

Now it’s a bigger stock up every two weeks. I venture out solo. I miss shopping with company and feeling okay about popping out to get something we’ve run short of/are in the mood for.

Appreciate the folks at our favorite supermarket, with its wide selection and fair prices, more than I ever imagined I would.

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We live on the outer Cape and don’t have many choices for grocery shopping. We used to go every other day or so and cook from whim. No longer. I make 2 lists, one for him and one for me. We go to other ends of the supermarket and meet at the self check-out que. We are in and out in less than 20 minutes. We do have wonderful, small fishmarkets that limit customers and also carry spices, sauces, cheeses, produce and charcuterie - but it’s a different world. I miss the old model.

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My mother’s MO has always been to shop once a week (on Thursdays, because that’s when the supermarket used to get their fish shipments) unless something is needed right away, like milk. When I was growing up, she’d keep a list throughout the week of things we were running low on, organized by supermarket section (produce, dairy, etc.); her coupon collection was similarly well organized.


Some shortages have made me try diff ingredients or rework meals but I have never been mote grateful about having choices than this year. We have 14 grocery choices within 7 miles in every direction.

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