Secrets from a supermarket trolley before the gates slam shut

Secrets from a supermarket trolley before the gates slam shut
With hunger being one of the biggest threats of the lockdown and the virus, a drastic increase in the price of basic goods in low-income areas is a consequence many South Africans cannot afford, says the writer.

Preparations for the new siege raised more questions than answers. For instance, how do you know what you want to eat on 6 April, how long do eggs last if not refrigerated and what is the dress code for surrender?

“What could be more important than a little something to eat?”

Winnie the Pooh (AA Milne)

At the heart of every crisis is food. Do we have any, where do we get it and how long will it last?

Conversations during a long siege usually include dialogues such as: 

“What’s for dinner dear?”. 

“Well, we finished Fluffy two days ago so it’s just beans and worms again I’m afraid. Thank heavens the well is holding up, we have water.”

“That’s it, I’m surrendering, get me my horse.”

“Um, that’s gone too, dear, remember the spit braai we had to motivate the serfs?”

“Dammit. Sling a white cloth over the parapets and get me my boots!”

“Er, the boots were soup a month ago, dear. Can you just wear your takkies? I am not sure what the dress code is for surrender.”

The lockdown has caused us to focus on the availability of supplies again. Sure, the supermarkets will stay open for “essential items” but not before the sin police get there – no wine and no cigarettes. If only the rest of the world had thought of that. Cut out booze and cigs and this thing will go away.

But the behaviour in the supermarkets has caused me to think that they should be avoided at all costs. Bare-handed slinging of groceries into bags, coughing, chatting cheek by jowl, joining queues with the breath of another on your neck. We made a decision to stock up and hunker down for the duration – which could be longer than the allotted three weeks.

We started by clearing out the freezer compartment, an activity which has never been top of our list of Things To Do At The Weekend.

The yield was astonishing: two bakkies of cooked curry, a variety of bones clearly meant for stock in the distant future, half a leg of lamb (good score that one), ice cream of unknown flavour, something labelled “soup” and a container of chicken livers, among other items that were beyond identification.

Right. Let’s make a list of the number of meals we need, the ingredients and the breakdown of meat vs pasta menus.


Our culinary life has always been an on-the-day thing. Will it be pizza, should we buy groceries on the way home or will we go out? With 40 years plus of partnership behind us this conversation has always been short and decided on the turn.

Now we were faced with pen and paper and decisions to be made for weeks ahead. The task defeated us.

How the hell do you know what you would want to eat on 6 April?

We decided to hit the supermarket and go our separate ways. Tony would buy the cheffie things like meat, fresh veg and olive oil and I would source long-lasting supplies – contingency food.

Long-lasting milk, yes! Tins of tuna and baked beans. And wonder of wonders, Smash – with its memories of the Eighties and children’s Sunday night dinners of Smash and Vienna sausages.

Biltong, yes. Biscuits, of course. Sailors used to go off on perilous seas fed only by dried meat and biscuits. And weevils. But let’s hope it doesn’t come to that. Lemons are said to be good too. Lemon juice?

I stalled at the egg counter. How many could fit into the fridge and how long do they last outside of it? I had never had more than a dozen eggs to hand in my life. They go into one of those wire chicken things and live on top of the cupboard.

I decided to eye up other people’s trolleys and see what they were buying. Big bags of flour loomed large so I bought two. Bread baking, just the thing! The mysterious little purple packets turned out to be yeast. Apparently you need those too.

Back home I went to YouTube, the Google mechanism for the eyes. I typed VERY EASY BREAD RECIPE into the search area.

First up was a teenager with Shirley Temple curls who simpered and said that any idiot could make two loaves out of this white bread recipe. I believed her. She gave the ingredients, accompanied by pictures of things like one-fourth a cup of sugar and two-thirds a cup of oil. I had to watch that silly video about 10 times to get the ingredients down, she went through them at lightning speed.

I finally got the dough together and put it out in the sun – well, she said a warm place for it to rise. I had to watch the video continuously again to see what she meant by “knead and flatten, knead and fold”. She gyrated and giggled a lot and kept hitting the dough with a spatula. I contented myself with just glowering at mine.

I am delighted to say that a couple of hours later I had two good-looking loaves of bread. Baking went to the top of the lockdown activities list, knocking drinking wine and rooting out old puzzles into second and third places.

But the excitement of achievement began to morph into melancholy. This was really happening. We had stocked up with food and we would have to stay at home for weeks. The plague was out there, it was real. This horrible virus would seize hold of hosts and multiply. We couldn’t have our open- door Friday night braais, pop out for a drink or sit around a groaning table with our friends.

We would not be spending Easter with our new grandson or driving to the coast to see the sea.

How had it come to this?

I’m afraid the answer was simple. It flashed up at me as I looked over the cooling bread on the table to the beautiful basil plant outside the back door, to the rose creeping round a mad metal wishing well we had been given as a house-warming present.

Nature will always find a way. We had messed with her and she had fought back with a stark message – mend your ways, care for all my creatures and take only what you need.

Message received. DM


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