Depending on which state you reside in, going to the grocery store may be the highlight of your week. Buying food is one of the few outside activities we’re permitted as we shelter in place, trying to “bend the curve” of new infections. Some day we may be let out to do more things, especially as more testing and treatments become available to control any resurgence of the coronavirus pandemic.
To be sure, going for weekly groceries is a bit more arduous than it was in the old world before the pandemic. We have to wear masks and practice social distancing. Some stores have defined directions that we are allowed to push our carts down each aisle.
Because of panic buying or strains on the supply chain, spot shortages of certain items have occurred from time to time. Fortunately, supplies of bottled water and toilet paper have recovered from the initial weeks of craziness.
A recent article in PJ Media posts the frightening question, what if the powers that be took away the right to go to the grocery store? As with most bad ideas, closing supermarkets was posited by a panel of “experts” on CNN.
“What if families with infants couldn’t make a run to get diapers, formula or whatever else they need to keep the kids fed? What if experts from someplace get to tell grocery stores nationwide that it’s time to shut the doors and force everyone to use online ordering and curbside or delivery to get what we need to survive?”
In theory, there is nothing wrong with ordering food online and either getting them delivered to your doorstep or driving to pick them up curbside. However, as anyone knows who have tried these services, they have tended to be hit or miss, depending on the store and the demand.
Right now, most stores are not set up for mass online shopping. It’s not as if you can place your order and get what you need within an hour or two.
A number of other problems exist with an abrupt change to virtual food shopping. Low-income people, who might not have the Internet and cannot afford the delivery fees, would be out of luck. The PJ Media article notes that one cannot use food stamps for online food shopping in many states.
The idea of closing off grocery stores to foot traffic stems from the desire to tighten down on safety. While a lot of stores have taken measures to tamp down on the possibility of infection, the fact remains that you might take home a dose of the coronavirus along with your milk and hamburger meat.
However, switching solely to online shopping means that grocery stores will have to hire a lot of gig workers or contract with services such as Uber Eats or Door Dash that employs the same.
The switch would mean not only an added expense to your local Kroger or HEB but would actually increase foot traffic at the store as people collect and bag the items and take them out, either to the curb or the delivery vehicle.
Besides, going totally to online shopping means that you can’t make a quick trip to the store to pick up that extra thing that you need, such as an ingredient for a meal or baby diapers. You will have to develop the skills of a military supply officer, anticipating what you might need for a week or two in advance.
The obvious question that apparently did not occur to the CNN panel is if you think people are irate and pouring out of quarantine to protest now wait until you take away their right to shop for food like they have for untold decades.
People tied up traffic for miles in Lansing, Michigan, mostly because the tinpot tyrant of a governor forbade them to buy gardening tools and seed. An edict against going to the store and picking out boxes of cereal and mac and cheese might just cause things to boil over into insurrection.
Sheltering in place has been successful in most places, not because state and local governments have the police power to enforce the system, but because people consent to do so, albeit reluctantly with a lot of grumbling.
However, as the outbreak of protests around the nation demonstrate, people do not have infinite patience. They need to be able to go back to work, to try to save their businesses, to just go places where they used to go. Tightening down on restrictions, in the view of most pundits, is going to be counter-productive.