Convenience Does Not Happiness Make: The Unexpected Strain of Buying Groceries Online

| 17 Feb 2021 | 02:10

Ordering groceries is the hardest thing for me. Leaves me emotionally exhausted, eyes closed, head back after each feat. Grateful but dejected. I’ve tried to figure out why – it is so convenient, a luxury even, but just thinking about it makes me miserable. Yet because I must eat, I put on my determined face and keep a running list on my desk, adding items as supplies dwindle. I need time to build up to the big order.

The computer is cold. Literally. I reach for it and wince, put a pillow on my lap and gingerly lift the screen open with my thumbs. I don’t like computers. I need them but I don’t like them - like a bad functioning relationship. I blame those ubiquitous apps for the loss of normal living. The last time I called a restaurant to order dinner the woman on the other end sent me away. Said I have to sign up for one of the delivery service apps they use. “But I have you right here, why can’t you just take my order?” I wanted to know. It didn’t make sense to me. No, she insisted, annoyed at my insistence, then repeated her position and said goodbye before I could argue further. I joined DoorDash right after and ordered from a different restaurant.

COVID and winter keep me shut in, maybe that’s why I’m so antsy. There is nowhere to go. Isolated in a quiet corner of Brooklyn near Jamaica Bay, even going for an evening walk leaves me feeling down. Passing blocks and blocks of carbon-copy brick houses with shuttered blinds and too few lights on, the occasional person scurrying by keep their heads down, not caring that they are the only In Real Life person I’ve seen all day.

A year in, the pandemic does not instill the same dread of the unknown as it did back in March. We have adapted as best as we can, surviving, some thriving even, in the midst of massive disruptions to our daily lives. I work and study from home, a circular blur where I could be up working at 4 a.m. or 4 p.m. because my body clock no longer works. Alarmed, my brain simply commands sleep whenever too many hours of alertness have passed.

I need to order groceries today. I have run out of all things fresh and now raid the pantry for non-perishables. I had pasta for the last two days, yet still I resist. I know it’s an easy process and gets food delivered right to my door, but it’s not the grocery store.

Not the one I go to for farm raised, sustainably sourced and wild Atlantic (vs non-wild, I assume) items, where the store clerk knows me and recommends a new type of fish that just arrived. And people block the narrow aisles with shopping carts, while they bend at the waist deeply pondering the choices of green or yellow squash; or reach high for organic blueberries right next to the non-organic ones and I hope there is really a big difference to the digestive system because there definitely is in price. Where a young man runs to get me a straw for my newly purchased bottle of freshly-made lemonade (the straw may or may not have been paper - the ones that dissolve as you use them); either way I was surrounded by other humans doing the dance of humanity – casual conversations, the exchange of goods, services, helping and irritating each other at different times as we interact and intersect and flow in and out of each other’s lives.

I look at the growing stack of yet-to-be-recycled Amazon Fresh paper bags, the collection of colorful FreshDirect shopping bags that no longer get collected because everything is contactless delivery now, and I feel helpless. Maybe that’s it. I have somehow associated online grocery shopping – essential groceries – with feelings of powerlessness; despair at my inability to stop a raging virus from harming me or the world, no matter how many precautions we use. That has to be it. I go to order and use a device that I would rather not use to follow a process that I would rather not do, and I feel out of control - an adult no longer in control of the most basic choices of food and travel.

Tonight, or in the wee hours, I will rush online and order as quickly as one can while in a heightened state of emotional fatigue. Eat, live and work, because post-pandemic beckons. I will shop again.