Pandemic Shopping for Your Neighbors

But the pandemic has deeply affected how Americans shop, eat and stock our pantries. In turn, we’ve caught glimpses of the private lives of our friends and neighbors. In the early days of the pandemic, while Americans scrambled for the most basic items, like flour and toilet paper, people had little choice but to ask one another to help fill in the gaps in their shopping lists. If you were lucky enough to score an Instacart time slot, you texted your best friend to find out if she still needed garlic or sugar. If you braved an hourlong line at ShopRite, you picked up an extra package of chicken for your neighbor.

Now, even as the grocery store shelves begin to resemble normal again, the dynamics still linger, and our shopping habits are still altered. Some food and household items remain in short supply (good luck finding bread flour), many stores still have lines, and for people like Ms. Zelazko who are immunocompromised, shopping is still off-limits.

“There still is sharing of those special items. For example flour — I bake bread every week and I’ve borrowed flour from several different friends and lent it to other friends,” said Michael Pollan, author of “The Omnivore’s Dilemma,” whose June essay in the New York Review of Books laid out how the pandemic exposed dysfunction in the American food supply chain. “There has been that kind of communication, which I imagine was going on in the Soviet bloc quite a bit once upon a time when there was no certainty that you could find the item that you needed, and the sense of really scoring when you found something.”

Americans are still wary of shopping. Roughly a third of respondents to a survey conducted in mid-May by Acosta, a sales and marketing agency, reported that they were concerned about food shortages, were stocking up when they did shop to limit trips to the store, and were cooking more at home. C.S.A. memberships are up as people look for alternatives for getting fruits, vegetables, eggs, cheese and meat. And victory gardens are making a comeback, leading to plant swaps among people who may never have gardened before but now have more pepper plants than they have containers to grow them in.

A few weeks after California enacted stay-at-home orders, Ave Lambert, who lives in San Francisco, was in need of a can opener and a bicycle pump, but didn’t want to venture to a store. So, Mx. Lambert, who identifies as nonbinary, set up a private Facebook group, calling it Barter Babes, and invited local friends to join. Members could invite friends, too, but they had to personally know the invitees. The group is local and small, with around 100 members.

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