As a healthcare worker i was no longer welcome in the grocery stores. If i made a stop at the pet store the cashier called for back-up, opened a completely different lane, and got me out of the store as soon as possible before the other customers could become riled up or united. It reached a point where it was no longer safe for me to go to the store after work. People responded to me with fear and anger, sometimes shouting or chasing me out of the store. Others cowered and ran from me. I felt like a leper. At tractor supply i had someone refuse to load my car because i might get them sick. Nobody wanted anything to do with me. Some reacted with more aggression than others but the general message was “stay away.” So i did. The problem with this was that healthcare workers had to eat too. Everybody told us to stay the **** away from their groceries so they could be safe but nobody had any kind of plan in place for how the healthcare workers were going to eat if we couldn’t go to the establishments that sold food. Nobody was lining up to drop us off any. It was as if they felt they didn’t need to think that far. The healthcare workers would just waste away or live on mcdonalds for every meal…nobody had really thought about it. They just wanted us to stay away. My mother introduced me to a service she and my other family members had subscribed to. Originally it wasn’t available in my area because i lived in a remote small town. However, during the spread of covid, the company partnered with fedex to get the boxes to more remote areas and thus service more of the US. It was a company that bought the food grocery stores rejected and then sold it to people at a discounted price. It then arrived on the doorstep weekly in a cardboard box with an ice pack. Because my box was arriving via fedex, the food always arrived a little battered and sun-baked and kept better during the cooler months. However, i was beyond glad to have it, as i had stopped going to the grocery store all together and this weekly cardboard box full of produce was my sole source of food that was sustaining me.
At the beginning of the week the website would allow me to customize a box based on what was available. Towards the end of the week the fedex man would deliver it. I had a really dedicated fedex man who knew me and all my neighbors and was aware of our schedules. Knowing what time we came home from work, if it was too early, he would make sure to hide the box in the shade. If it was close to my return time he would hop the fence and make the 100 foot trek to my front door to leave the box on the porch. He was an older man with white hair but very fit. I began leaving a “thank you” note written on cardboard and placed in a plastic bag, twist-tied to the front gate on delivery days. I really was thankful. He was carrying precious cargo. Fedex had become my sole source of food. That one delivery meant i could eat for the rest of the week.
Different things were available each week. One week there was kale, cauliflower, and mango.
This week there was a cantaloupe and a giant golden beet in the box.
Sometimes the farmer just grew more than the grocer was contractually obligated to buy from them. Sometimes the coloring of a fruit was off, the vegetable was too big, too small, too bumpy, or had scarring. For whatever reason, the produce had been rejected. However, it was still perfectly good food and all organic.
I learned to buy a little more than i needed because not everything in the basket always arrived. If they were out of something by the time they filled my box, they just didn’t put it in. Then i went hungry, as the food was not enough to stretch through the whole 7 days. Also, fedex tended to beat the box up a bit before it got to the man who took it on its last leg of the journey. The more produce present in the one-size-fits-all box, the less it rolled around during delivery. During this time i cooked everything from scratch. My days of instant and pre-cooked food seemed like a distant memory. If i wanted to eat i had to put in the work. Often i cooked at night after all the chores had been done and if i didn’t have enough present in the pan to have a good sized supper and still have enough to pack for lunch the following morning, i had a small supper.
I started spending more money on fruit than i was on vegetables. I told myself it was justified. It was the summer. These fruits would not be available all year round. I had to take advantage of them while i had the chance. There would be time to spend more money on vegetables through the winter. As the service became more popular and more customers joined, it became a fight to put things in the basket before they went “out of stock”. The shopping cart opened at 1 pm and by 1:05 everything was gone. Whatever i already had in my cart, generated by the computer, would remain in there. I then had 20 hours to watch that website like a hawk, refreshing the page every 30 to 45 minutes. If somebody emptied an item from their basket, it became briefly available for someone else to snatch up. I had to be that person waiting to click and snatch it up when someone else relinquished it. Strawberries were the hot-ticket item. Everyone wanted the strawberries. They were gorgeous and juicy and a deep maroon red. Just picking them up between my fingers the juices squeezed out and ran down my arm. They smelled fruity too. That was something store-bought berries never did, because they weren’t ripe enough when picked. Some idiot picked these berries too late and so the grocery wouldn’t take them because they wouldn’t hold up on the journey to the store. That idiot was my hero, and i’m sure so many others’ as well. I stayed up until 10:25 or 11:40 some monday nights waiting for another customer to take those strawberries out of their basket. I was counting on the fact that someone with diverticulitis or a strawberry allergy might not want the box of strawberries that had been auto inserted by the computer into their basket. I couldn’t see any other reason someone wouldn’t want them. I mean, who on earth didn’t love a gorgeous sweet juicy berry that filled the room with its sun-kissed fragrance? Those berries were to die for and i fretted over them constantly each monday, refreshing the page every 40 minutes and refusing to go to sleep until i had a box of them in the basket. When i arrived home to find the box in the yard my first and only thought was those strawberries. I would hurry over to the porch and rip into the box with my knife. I would pull out and examine the box of juicy berries, noting their condition, looking for smooshed ones that might cause the others to rot if left in. Bright pink juice would drip from the box and onto the packaging. I would tuck the berries gingerly into the produce drawer in my refrigerator, and then return to parking the car. I wouldn’t touch the berries until three days later around noon when i washed the dishes and started on the next week’s batch of oat yogurt. I would carefully select 8 of the largest berries and pull their tops off, setting them aside to give to the chickens later. I would then slice seven of the berries, arranging them in the bottom of each yogurt jar, dividing the eighth berry between all 7 jars. I would empty a capsule of probiotics into the oat milk box, put the cap back on, shake it, and pour it over the strawberries in the bottom of each jar. Then i would set all the jars in the yogurt maker, put the lid on, plug it into the wall, and set it for 15 hours. At this point i would return to the strainer in the sink where i would pull the tops off all the remaining berries and eat them one by one, savoring every mouthful of fresh sweet juice. I thought, “This is what food should be.” I was very careful with the nectarines and the apples. I rationed them, making sure i only ate two pieces of fruit per day, to make them last all throughout the week. However, the strawberries were a different story. They were not to be rationed. They were a treat. For a moment i forgot i was in the middle of a pandemic. I forgot there were riots and police with rubber bullets and tear gas in the streets. I forgot that there was an election coming up and people were afraid to vote because the government had denied them mail in ballots. I forgot i worked in healthcare. I forgot about the mortgage. I forgot about everything and i existed in one pure five minute moment of absolute joy. I didn’t know how many weeks they would keep offering strawberries but if it was on the website i was going to get me a box that week.
The carrots were a treasured piece in the box because the bottoms of the vegetable fed me and the tops fed the chickens.