Oliver: Finding grocery item during pandemic turns shopping into odyssey

What lengths are you willing to go to in order to find one of your favorites?

Back in the days before COVID-19, the process of grocery shopping was fairly uncomplicated for Tony and me.

Once a week, we’d head off with our list in hand to our favorite grocery store.

Tony would push the cart, and I would hunt and gather each item from the store aisles. Since we shopped a warehouse-type store, it could be an adventure to find something the first time, and it was a bit of a hike when I invariably forgot to pick something up and had to retrace my steps. But at least it was good exercise, or so I’d tell myself.

When something could not be found, it was a matter of figuring out which other store might have the item and going there when it was convenient. That, or waiting a week and trying again.

Things changed abruptly when the pandemic hit and it became apparent that neither Tony nor I should be going into public places even while masked. So a dear couple we know offered to go shopping for us once a week. Little did we all realize how long we’d be taking them up on their generous offer.

It has meant, however, that we haven’t been shopping at our favorite store. We’ve all had to make concessions to this pandemic, and this was one of ours. And certainly not the biggest one.

So we’ve had to figure out creative ways to get items that the current store does not carry.

The most beloved item, which we aren’t willing to go without for very long, is an eggplant spread that resembles hummus. We like it on our daily egg sandwiches, along with some mayonnaise. Yum.

One of our other friends periodically asks if we need anything from our favorite store, and we always ask for our eggplant spread. It’s perishable, so it’s not something we can just stock up on.

When I used to go into the office a couple of times a week, I had a kind and helpful co-worker who was willing to pick a tub or two up for me when I was running low. Now that I’m not going into the office, that option is trickier to pull off.

Recently, our store of choice finally got delivery service, so I thought, hey, here’s an easy way to stop having to lean on all my friends. I’ll just put in an order and – voila! – we’ll be all set in the eggplant spread department.

Anyone who has done the delivery thing realizes that there’s often a minimum purchase amount. So in ordering my eggplant spread, I tried to also order things I couldn’t get elsewhere.

A few minutes after I hit “send,” I received a message from the store that some of my items were not available. Want to guess what they didn’t have?

Feeling desperate, I found another store that also carries the spread. Here we go again, I thought to myself, as I worked to meet its minimum order amount.

This time … success! There will be eggplant spread!

When the delivery person came up to the door, I paused when I saw about four large bags. Wait, I thought, didn’t I only order seven items?

As he walked away, I noticed some items that I hadn’t ordered in one of the bags. What I didn’t see was my eggplant spread. And then he came back carrying more stuff! No, no, I said. Some of this isn’t mine! And where are the tubs of eggplant spread?

After a bit, we got it all sorted out, and at last we had our elusive prize. For a little while, at least.

Shopping during a pandemic certainly has become more complicated.

Someday I’ll have to tell you what I went through to find red lentils …

Joan Oliver

Joan Oliver

A 30-year newspaper veteran who has been a copy editor, front-page editor, presentation editor, assistant news editor and publication editor, as well as a columnist and host of an online newspaper newscast.