What we learned from the first, chaotic time around

By Stacey Ballis
May 18, 2020
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If you have been watching the news and listening to Dr. Anthony Fauci, you realize that even though many areas are beginning to re-open in staged fashion, we are not remotely on the other side of the coronavirus. Depending on where you live, you might still be under stay-at-home orders, or your community might be slowly beginning to resume some limited activities. Your workplace may have decided to stick with work from home for the foreseeable future. But the one thing that seems relatively certain, according to the medical and scientific communities: We should all be prepared for a second surge.

What does this mean to our lives as home cooks and to our pantries? Now is the time to reboot: revisit what we stockpiled the first, frenzied time around, and use these steps to better balance our pantries for what the future might bring. And look at it this way: If your community keeps its curve flattened, then you’ve just got a better-organized kitchen for life going forward. And who doesn’t love that idea? Use these 6 steps to get your pantry up to snuff.

Step 1: Take stock.

What do you already have that you have not used? And why haven’t you used it? If you bought all the beans only to decide you don’t really like beans, don’t buy more just because everyone says they are de rigueur. But if you found yourself going through canned tuna at a rate not seen since your co-ed days, you are going to want to load in more of that. You know what you have actually been eating these past weeks, so make a list of your staples and figure out which of those are shelf-stable or last a long time in the fridge or can be frozen. No one is policing your consumption, so buy what you like and will eat, and don’t worry about whether it was on anyone’s recommended list (including mine).

Step 2: Set up some swaps.

Email your neighbors, friends, and family to see if any of their supplies have gone unused and if they're interested in any trading. If you didn’t use any pasta, but ran out of rice two weeks in, and your BFF still has 24.5 pounds left in the 25-pound sack of rice they bought, you might want to do a carb exchange.

Step 3: Start now to load in slowly and gradually.

The shortages everyone faced during the early weeks of lockdown were very much connected to panic buying. Instead of trying to buy all of what you think you need at once, do this: Starting this week, buy a couple of your needed items and begin to rebuild your stockpile with each grocery store delivery/market visit. Your goal should be the same as the first time arounda two-week supply of food—so look to slowly buy enough to cover two weeks of regular life, and then keep going (slowly) to have a reserve two-week stash stockpiled. Once you've hit that amount, stop buying those products so there's enough for everyone else.  

Step 4: Try your local restaurant supply store.

With so much of the hospitality industry shuttered, many restaurant supply stores are now open to the public. These places are a great source for reasonably priced items that are ideal for stocking your pantry, like onions, potatoes, grains, pastas, beans, and the like. They will also have some terrific and inexpensive food storage containers to help you organize unusually large amounts of supplies. You can save a lot of money buying in bulk, but if their sizes are too large for your household, see if you have someone you can split items with.

Step 5: Consider online ordering direct.

Are you going through flour like you’re running a small bakery? And does the sight of empty flour shelves in your supermarket give you a panic attack? Online sources can be a boon for certain foods. Look for mills that are selling and shipping direct to consumer; place an order now if you have the room to store it. I love The Mill at Janie’s Farm, which can deliver within 3-5 days anywhere in the country. Farmers are selling direct to consumers as well, so search online for local farms to see who is doing drop-offs or deliveries (and look into CSAs, below). If you have a group of friends who are worried about meat shortages, consider pooling resources and going in on half a cow or half a pig together; local farmers can help you with processing and delivery.

Step 6: Join a CSA.

There has never been a better time to join a CSA, especially since one of the things that many of us have had issues getting is fresh produce. You’ll help the farmers stay afloat and get a regular weekly influx of delicious plants. See what is available in your area and pick one that fits your needs. It is an upfront investment not only in better eating for you, but in keeping the farming community alive to keep feeding us on the other side of this.