Notes from the Pandemic – The New Shopping

The original shock of the wrenching changes to our lives caused by the pandemic has worn off a bit and it appears we’re settling into The New Reality. We humans like routine and predictability and many of us seem to have quickly adapted to the new behaviors now required of us.

For example, I used to hate having stuff in my pants pockets, but now before I leave the house I load up. I carry a small money/card clip, a 3 oz. bottle of hand sanitizer, a small folded piece of paper (useful for grasping store door and cooler handles), my cell phone, my keys, plastic gloves, a comb, coins (if I think a rare cash purchase may occur), and an unsharpened pencil (useful for safely poking self-checkout machine screens).

I put on a face mask, of course, a hat and sunglasses, and I often take a small bottle of water with me, for use in the car, and my own sturdy reusable shopping bag. I also put on my watch and my civilian dog tags (ID and emergency contact info). Whew – it’s amazing that I get out the door!

This is just the standard inventory I load up with each time I go somewhere public, and I’ve become quite used to it. Similarly, coming home, has its own hand-and-reusable-mask-washing drill, and unloading routine. It’s a time-consuming pain in the butt, but I’m used to it now. You probably have a similar procedure and inventory.

Perhaps this is overkill?

In combination with that, there are the new complications in the shopping process itself. Masking up, disinfecting your shopping cart handle (if you use one), using the store’s hand sanitizer (if offered), maintaining survival distancing from other shoppers, minding the One-Way stickers on the aisle floors, avoiding unnecessary touching of anything, doing the as-little-contact-as-possible check-out dance, getting out of there, and using the hand sanitizer again. Sound familiar?

The cumulative effect of this for me is that I’ve become more efficient: I combine shopping stops and often decide I can’t be bothered to make small, incidental, or impulse shopping stops. It’s now too much trouble to “pop into” some place I’m passing on the odd chance that they’ll have something I think I need. This turns out to be good for the bank account.

Plastic is King now with credit and debit cards and digital pay being used predominantly for payments. I can’t remember the last time I went to an ATM. Who wants to touch money that’s been touched by other folks? This bias has even impacted the coin supply: banks are restricting the amount of coinage retailers can get because the amount of it in circulation has dropped severely, causing a shortage.

A very rare sighting!

Speaking of shortages, they are, of course, still with us. Thankfully, toilet paper is in good supply, as are gloves, masks, and hand sanitizer. But now I can always spot where the Lysol and Clorox sanitizing wipes are supposed to be: they’re the perpetually-empty shelves with the “Please just buy one” signs attached.

Note that the CDC recommends wipes with 70%+ alcohol content and that many products touted as disinfectants have not actually been tested and shown to kill the current coronavirus. For your reference, the CDC provides this list of EPA-approved cleaners and disinfectants that will. Note that the many products that use Benzalkonium Chloride as their active ingredient will kill bacteria but not this virus.

And so it goes, in 2020, the Year of the Pandemic. We adapt, we negotiate with the fates, and we survive, if we’re smart. Stay smart, people.

Voting From Abroad

If you’re going to be outside the U.S. in early November and haven’t already made arrangements to vote, I’d like to recommend

This non-profit, non-partisan group has a great web site, from which you can request a special Federal Post Card absentee ballot.

Their easy-to-use site helps you fill-in an FPCA request form and email it to your local voter registrar – it’s very easy and clear.

Once accepted by your registrar, your ballot will be emailed to you in late September. Depending on your state, you may be able to request the ballot be delivered by fax or by online download. You print it, mark the ballot and sign it, and then mail it back to the U.S. Couldn’t be easier.

Note that once you’ve voted using an absentee ballot, you may have to take special measures to be able to vote again in person if/when you return to the U.S. For example, you may have to visit your voter registrar’s office in person and request that your status be changed back to that of a local voter. If you have to do this, be sure to get some documentation attesting to the change from the registrar’s office – you can show it at your local polling place when you vote next, just in case the “system” doesn’t get the message.

Can overseas voters make a difference? You bet they can! According to the Department of Defense, there are over 3 million voting-age Americans overseas.

United States: International Travel Pariah

Yesterday, the European Union announced it was ready to receive international travelers from 15 countries. The United States, which in the past has provided more than a billion euros in annual E.U. tourism revenue, was not on the list.

Not accepted in many countries for now

Due to the high COVID-19 infection rate in the U.S. and our general national pandemic leadership vacuum, we’ve become a pariah country. Yes, amazingly, U.S. citizens are no longer welcome in other countries. In this regard, we’ve been lumped in with India, Brazil, and Russia. This is sad news and disappointing for those of us whose lifestyles involves frequent travel.

What was not clear in the E.U. announcement were the details, wherein the “devil always lies”. Specifically, are U.S. passport holders in general restricted from entry into the E.U. or is it just travelers coming from the U.S.?

This is relevant, for example, for U.S. citizens who may actually be living in foreign countries and who have not been to the U.S. in several years. Surely, they’re not going to be banned from the E.U.?

Reciprocity is another factor in decisions about border restrictions. It’s often an issue with big E.U. countries such as France and Germany, and the fact is that the U.S. still bans entry for non-U.S. citizens from E.U. countries.

And, there’s another complication: some E.U. countries are making independent decisions; Greece and Portugal are said to be opening their borders to U.S travelers anyway but the process is not entirely clear yet.

Finally, we have the testing and quarantine requirements that some countries are talking about putting in place for all international (i.e non-E.U.) arrivals. I would not find a two-week quarantine (out of a planned six-week stay) too odious but that’s clearly a deal-killer for typical tourists planning a one- or two-week vacation.

Uncertainty about the safety and availability of air travel will deter many travelers for now. And, in a blow to the short-term rental market, some cities have used the global travel pause of the last few months to consider how to combat “over tourism”. Amsterdam, for example, just announced restrictions on Airbnb rentals within three downtown districts, limiting them to a total of 30 days of rentals per year.

What’s to be done? The U.E. and U.K. and many individual countries have pledged to review their policies every two weeks and to make adjustments as warranted. That’s good news but isn’t helpful for those of us in the U.S. right now. It may be that we have to leave here and travel to some “intermediate country” that will have us for a month, in order to establish our health and our isolation from the terrible infections in the U.S., before we can return to Europe.

A Visit to Disturbingly Delicious Foods

I returned to the U.S. from Paris in late May and completed my required 14-day quarantine, without travail. I’m now installed in an Airbnb apartment in Arlington, Virginia and looking ahead to spending an unexpected summer here. In a few weeks, I’ll move begin house-sitting nearby for a friend and that will last until September or October. It’s not what I imagined I’d be doing now a year ago, but we all have to make the best of the Current Situation.

This week I visited my old friend Dave Forbes at his Disturbingly Delicious Foods store in nearby Falls Church. Dave is an IT consultant who decided to get into the condiments business, hence his unofficial local title as “The Sauce King”.

Face it! Here in the U.S. we’re hooked on condiments (we’re talking about ketchup, mayo, barbecue sauce, etc.) and most of those sold in the U.S. are loaded with salt, sugar or corn syrup, and fat, i.e. they’re not very good for you.

Dave set out to create “delicious, healthy, artisanal, plant-based sauces, spreads, and dips” as an alternative. Visit his fun web site to see his philosophy and information about the foods he creates. I made a small contribution by suggesting the name MAYONOT for his alternative to mayonnaise.

Imagine, if you will, a condiment that tastes a lot like ketchup but is made from kale, rather than tomatoes. That would be Dave’s KALECHUP sauce.

When I dropped in on him, Dave was busy bottling a batch of his tasty new HUNKY DORY sauce. This is a tangy red sauce that goes well with a broad range of foods and has no added sugar or fats and very little salt in it.

I particularly like this quote from his web site:

Thus we offer to you, dear consumer of ketchups, BBQ, steak, and hot sauces, relishes, mustards, mayonnaises, aiolis, and quesos, an entire family of super delicious, post-modern, New American condiments, sauces, toppings, and dips that manifest the spirit of the original (some more so than others — whilst we consider ourselves non-traditional traditionalists we also dabble in being traditional non-traditionalists) while embracing being as good for you as possible.

Dave does have a good sense of humor. It’s been fun to watch him, over the last few years, become quite a food scientist and he’s been certified by the county, the state, and the FDA. He also holds several patents for his recipes.

So, just how healthy are Dave’s sauces? Check out the Nutrition Label for MAYONOT:

That last time I saw that many zeroes was on a bottle of spring water. Now go look at the label on that mayonnaise you have in your refrigerator. Quite a difference, no?

Dave’s business is a deliberately a small operation and he’s very hands-on in the production process. It was entertaining watching him deftly bottle his new product.

The store is jammed with interesting products and he has some co-marketing arrangements with other local artisanal food producers, such as Stachowski’s Meats and Sausages.

The store is filled with an incredible array of sauces, spreads, and dips, and it’s a lot of fun to peruse the stock. These products check all the good food boxes: extremely healthy, tasty and versatile, locally-made, and fairly-priced.

If you’re in the area, you can visit Dave at 455 S. Maple Avenue in Falls Church, behind the pocket Target store. Tell him I sent you!

P.S. Yes, I’m enthusiastic about this and I was given a free bottle of HUNKY DORY, but I got it because I helped Dave unbox/box the empty/filled bottles.