I feel nostalgic for the days of normal grocery shopping — barely two months ago — when we could walk into a store or farmers market, patiently browse and choose whatever we wanted to cook for the week without fear of contracting a virus, or putting a market worker’s health at risk. But it’s been several weeks now since we went to an actual grocery store, as we’ve been cautiously heeding advisories to minimize visits.

My second-to-last grocery visit was to Wegmans in Cherry Hill, and while the crew there did an excellent job encouraging social distancing and sanitizing the carts and conveyor belt between customers, we completely panic-shopped and spent so much money stocking-up for our family of four that I was shell-shocked after checkout. I recognized the need to shop for as much as possible to last — but also the privilege to be able to afford do so, and I was embarrassed when the clerk said it was one of the longer tickets he’d rung up all day. (For a more elegant take on the moral conundrums of quantity shopping during a pandemic, please read food editor Jamila Robinson’s recent essay.)

We clearly needed a better strategy. Our next grocery visit, to the Acme at 19th Street and Oregon Avenue, was an attempt to make the most of our dollars on basics. But this store was less organized and less effective with social distancing. As a result, navigating the crowded aisles there felt like a passive-aggressive game of South Philly shopping cart chicken. And it would be our last grocery store visit for the foreseeable future.

» ASK US: Do you have a question about the coronavirus and how it affects your health, work and life? Ask our reporters.

Since then, I’ve discovered the joys of subscribing to a farm share CSA, picking up weekly deliveries of vegetables, meats, and dairy from Green Meadow Farm, whose boxes brought not only supremely fresh ingredients, but a culinary challenge I decided to write about with the help of some local chefs. Other locally minded purveyors who previously sold primarily to restaurants have also upped their CSA games, including Lancaster Farm Fresh and Zone 7, which delivers to Bucks, Mercer, and Hunterdon Counties.

Giuseppe’s Market inside Samuels and Son Seafood is still open in Philadelphia, PA on March 30, 2020.
DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer
Giuseppe’s Market inside Samuels and Son Seafood is still open in Philadelphia, PA on March 30, 2020.

But even with all that bounty, there were some holes that needed to be filled. We were craving seafood after a month of chicken and meat, so we called in an order with two hours notice to Giuseppe’s Market at Samuels and Son in deep South Philly, where we drove for prompt contact-free curbside pickup of fresh salmon, sweet dayboat scallops, and cans of crab at fair prices. (Samuels offers home delivery for a charge, but we were glad for the outing.)

Since then, however, we’ve been riding the roller-coaster of online shopping and deliveries, which can be as unpredictable as they are expensive with added fees. On the plus side was a well-packed order from Di Bruno Bros. on Rittenhouse Square, whose specialty cheeses, vinegars, and oils helped restock some key flavor boosters in my now very active pantry.

Dolores Bologa, 60, of Fairmount Philadelphia, is called next in line to the cashier at Iovine Brothers Produce Market in Reading Terminal Market on Tuesday, April 14, 2020. Bologa goes there to get her produce and only goes out once a week. “They changed it around a little bit since the last time I was here,” Bologa said. “It is more sectioned off to keep your distance which I think It’s better. Any type of precautions we can take during this pandemic is great.” The market has paused online ordering and delivery though Monday in order to improve the system. As an essential business, it remains open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday.
TYGER WILLIAMS / Staff Photographer
Dolores Bologa, 60, of Fairmount Philadelphia, is called next in line to the cashier at Iovine Brothers Produce Market in Reading Terminal Market on Tuesday, April 14, 2020. Bologa goes there to get her produce and only goes out once a week. “They changed it around a little bit since the last time I was here,” Bologa said. “It is more sectioned off to keep your distance which I think It’s better. Any type of precautions we can take during this pandemic is great.” The market has paused online ordering and delivery though Monday in order to improve the system. As an essential business, it remains open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday.

On the negative end was the half-hour I wasted meticulously clicking through boxes to place a large online order with multiple merchants from the Reading Terminal Market, only to discover at checkout that the market’s contracted online delivery service, Mercato, had recently stumbled to a halt trying to keep up with demand. (Pickup at the market has remained available throughout, and the delivery service was back up running properly earlier this week, according to Downtown Cheese owner Jack Morgan.)

Meanwhile, for bulk vegetables, paper towels, soap, butter, and other basics we’ve resorted to Amazon Fresh, whose delivery slots must be booked a few days out — and require the persistence of frequent screen refreshing throughout the day before an available delivery window magically appears.

It all seemed like such a hassle until our neighbors told us of waiting two weeks for Instacart to offer them a delivery slot between 10 p.m. and midnight, only to get a call from their shopper late on delivery day telling them Sprouts Farmers Market had closed its doors for the night before the shopper had managed to acquire half their list. Oy! By comparison, in these days of online distance shopping roulette, I felt as if we’d won the grocery lottery. At least, for the moment.