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Market forces: How COVID exposed my desperate fear of buying groceries

TALES OF 2020

Each day this month, we will publish Tales of 2020, the stories of ordinary Queenslanders enduring an extraordinary year. Today, archaeology student Julia Moloney explains how two weeks’ quarantine was a snack compared to writing a shopping list.

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On 12 March 2020, I flew to New Delhi for a long-anticipated holiday in India and Nepal.

However, the coronavirus had other ideas and on 17 March, I arrived home again to be greeted with the news that I was to self-isolate for fourteen days. Fine. I could do this.

I live in a spacious apartment overlooking the Story Bridge, the river, and the totally hip neighbourhood of New Farm.

Day 1 of quarantine required a list. A shopping list. It was to be sent by text to my father who would deliver the items required to my door, observing social distancing rules, of course.

But here is the thing: I am thirty-one years old, and I had never written a shopping list in my life. I like to breeze into Coles with a complete lack of purpose and choose items at will.

This inevitably means I arrive home, open the pantry door and add two more tins of tomatoes to the ever-growing pyramid. I never have what I need. I never buy the right item. I always seem to have 2.5 kilos of salt.

In a flight of fancy some months ago I told myself I would make beef stroganoff. But I forgot to buy the beef, so there is a quart of cream in the fridge that I have not yet thrown away, because I will not admit defeat.

There are moths in the curry spices. There are mites in the quinoa. There are seven cans of salmon that mock me every time I open the pantry. I do eat. I eat dip. And carbs. So many carbs. And Sriracha hot sauce.

I like to wander the shops and pick up items like Arborio rice and imagine I am the type of person who lovingly stirs the risotto until it is ‘moist and tender’.

I go on sprees and buy broccoli in bulk which I then make into enormous batches of freezeable meals. Turns out broccoli does not freeze well.

And now my parents were asking me to write a shopping list. All the items that would sustain me for a fortnight. Oh God, they were going to find out: I am not an adult. (Apparently, wine is not a grown-up’s meal.)

Step 1: Give the list a title. Julia’s Absolutely Adult Shopping List.

Step 2: Write list.

Eggs. When I was growing up, there was always a dozen in the fridge. I do not think I have had an egg without avocado and toasted sourdough since I was six. If it does not come poached and cost me my entry into the housing market, I do not want to know about it. But Mum and Dad always had them. Eggs go on the list.
Bread goes with eggs. Wholemeal bread will give me brownie points with the parentals.

Potatoes & onions. This will trick the parentals into thinking I am going to cook.

Milk. That is a thing, right? I have not gone through a litre of milk since I realised my local coffee shop was open 24 hours. Better add milk to the list. I will use it to make my own …

Coffee! Jesus, how will I get coffee? I added it to the list. Turns out I will drink anything that remotely looks like coffee. Did not realise my father had bought decaf until thirteen days in. Will take revenge on parents later. (Author’s note. I managed to get coffee delivered to my gate every day. Sympathy is a weapon I have learnt how to wield.)

Soup. I hate soup. I have always hated soup. That my mother had advised I stock up on soup prior to my ill-fated trip I have chosen to ignore. I did state the soup was not to be corn or pea and ham. My mother has never believed anyone could dislike pea and ham soup. I was given mushroom soup – and pea and ham soup, with corn.

After fourteen days of quarantine and another fourteen working from home, glaring hotly at the cans every time I opened the cupboard, I found a useful job for them – keeping houseplant number thirty-two upright. One of the cans has lost its label. I hope I never have to find out what is inside.

P.S. Items I did not ask for and yet received:

Soap – Eight bars of a brand I never use

A jigsaw puzzle which turned out to have five extra pieces that no one told me about!

Yeast – a precious commodity apparently, but not in my kitchen!

Julia Moloney is a Brisbane archaeology student who has worked in a variety of roles which have taken her to interesting places around the world.

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