The grocery store treasure hunt has become our pandemic entertainment

Shopping for all the necessary food groups, man-style.

When you need to shoo your bored husband out of the house for a while, consider sending him to the grocery store. It’s also an excellent way of cutting that umbilical cord he’s grown to CNN over the last few months. Admittedly, guys come home with all kinds of strange, exotic and usually unhealthy food purchases, but it’s often worth the entertainment value. Who knows when you might need pickled antipasto or Cajun corn relish? My husband seems to love going to the grocery store and actually prefers to do his own shopping when it’s his day to cook, even though I probably already have everything he needs in the pantry.

There was an excellent First Person essay My neighbour’s shopping list was a demanding nightmare in The Globe and Mail recently written by Joanne Tilden about her adventures shopping for her elderly neighbour. When the pandemic hit, she generously offered to pick up groceries for him with no idea that the job would become so onerous and taxing. Her friends speculated that her neighbour might have been a particularly anal engineer back in the day (and I used to work with engineers, so I know what she means) as evidenced by the convoluted shopping lists he emailed to her. His requests were bitingly specific: “Arctic Gardens Italian-style vegetables. Make sure they are not frozen stiff. You should be able to move the bag around. If not, try the bag behind.” Or what about “Go past the deli counter, turn around 180 degrees and look high on the shelf, above your head, for one 750 ml jar of Planters peanut oil. Bingo!”

When the complexity of his orders started escalating, requiring side trips to specialty stores for things like multiple boxes of wine, she started to get a bit peeved. He even had the nerve to chastise her for being late with her delivery once. When he suggested, that since she was out and about anyway, perhaps she could take his clothes to the laundromat and do his laundry, she reacted with appropriate indignation. The solution was to teach him how to order online which she accomplished, to her great relief.

Joanne’s experience reminded me of my own instructions when I send my honey to the grocery store. He tries hard and has good intentions but unless I’m extremely specific and even when I am extremely specific, he’ll get the wrong thing and we know how disappointing that can be. A couple of weeks ago I sent him to the store. My list included:

  • Charmin’ toilet paper. Not Cashmere . . . and Soft, not Strong. Get jumbo or double rolls only. Read the package label carefully.
  • 2 lb. block of Balderson Cheese. 2-years-old. His eye didn’t get past the ‘2’ and brought home two little packages of 5-year-old Balderson at $14.95 per half-pound. Yikes! $30.00 for a pound of cheese.
  • Kellogg’s All-Bran (for his home-made breakfast muffins—I’m not a complete ogre). Largest box. Not Bran Flakes and not Bran Buds. Get the kind that looks like little sticks on the box. And, not Post brand.
  • One litre of milk but be sure it’s 1% and organic. PC brand is good.
  • Can of cranberries. But be sure they’re whole berry not jellied. And get Ocean Spray not another brand or No-Name.
When in doubt, call for backup.

My husband has been excused from the grocery store salmon hunt because I’ve accepted that, hard as he tries, he’ll never get it right. When I specify, 213-gram-size cans of Clover Leaf Wild Red Pacific Sockeye Salmon for sandwiches, his eye gets stuck on ‘Red’ and inevitably he comes home with inferior cohoe pink in a can with a red label. I guess I should just be thankful he didn’t come home with 213 cans of salmon.

He makes up for his missteps by slipping in bags of chocolate-covered blueberries or Chapman’s BlackJack Cherry frozen yogurt, though, so how can I fault him. The thing is, men get easily confused in the grocery store. It can be overwhelming, even for experienced shoppers like us. That’s why you see husbands huddled over their cell phones in the baking section seeking further instructions. “Do you mean whole wheat flour, unbleached, or white All-Purpose? How much? Does it really have to be organic?” 

And the list goes on. We’re still enjoying the outfall of the pork tenderloin kerfuffle. I once sent him for a strip of pork tenderloin, just enough to barbecue for dinner that night. Instead of a petite pork tenderloin, he came home with an entire loin of pork, eighteen inches long. Rather than having just the right amount to feed the two of us for one meal, I had enough to make a Pork Lo Mein banquet for most of mainland China. I cut the loin into chops and froze enough for twenty-six meals. Sometimes certain items on the list are too complicated to even bother risking sending him out. I do it myself. I could go on, but if you sympathize with him, I completely understand. Under the circumstances, he’s a hero.

If it’s not on the list, resist. Do not buy.

Yesterday I had an appointment at the dentist and my husband was in need of a project to keep him busy so I asked him to pick up about a dozen items at the grocery store. He spent two hours in the store—more time than I spent at the dentist getting a complete dental cleaning, a new filling and a wisdom tooth extracted. I thought he did a pretty good job of sticking to the list. However, I’ve already started finding little surprises in the cupboards. I don’t remember buying Zesty Four Pepper and Two Olive Antipasto recently. Deconstructing the contents of his shopping bags when he gets home usually launches lengthy outpourings of explanation on his part, followed by much nodding and mumbles of “It’ll do; it’s just fine,” on my part. It’s become our pandemic entertainment.

By the way, I would like to know why the tooth fairy didn’t leave anything for me under my pillow after my wisdom tooth extraction. Perhaps she’s working from home too and doesn’t have a PayPal account. Or maybe she’s busy trying to explain her shopping list to Mr. Tooth Fairy so she can trust him with the grocery shopping and go back to work.

Either way, grocery shopping has become a major expedition and test of endurance these days, more complicated than those televised Oak Island treasure hunts. With stock shortages, all that sanitizing, masking, and tiresome lineups, it’s no wonder we get confused and come home frustrated and fatigued. I think it’s definitely time to check out that boxed wine store. That sounds like a simple destination we both agree on and I would definitely not object if my husband came home with ‘extras’. We’ll do what we have to do to get through this.

Today’s question: How have your trips to the grocery store been impacted by the pandemic?


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Susan Duke
Susan Duke
2 years ago

I loved your message and Mary Anne’s comments. Although I don’t have a member of the opposite sex in my household now, I can certainly remember. I do however have a “CAT” named Nugget. I retrieved him from the Humane Society almost a year ago. He knows just how to make hints about whatever he is looking for to eat or play. I of course respond immediately. I do love him and that’s the bottom line. However, if you know of any male men looking for a nice home……give me a call.

2 years ago

I feel your pain. Now that the cold weather has come I think we’ll go back to PC express. Order online and they put it the trunk of your car. It doesn’t provide the same opportunity of time away from the house but it is a lot easier in some ways. Not all. And, we have our wine and beer delivered.