Upper West Siders Share Thoughts on Food Shopping During Coronavirus Crisis

How is noted documentary-maker and Upper West Sider Ric Burns approaching his food shopping routine with impending restrictions on movement in NYC? He says his shopping list includes “Frozen, canned and things you can (and like to) eat. Cannelloni beans are better dried than canned. Cans of diced tomatoes for various Italian purposes. Almost no frozen vegetables were available when I went to the store, just a sign that said, ‘We’ll be back.'”

Ric Burns

Ric Burns

Burns described his usual household has four people, his wife Bonnie Lafave and two sons. For now they’re scattered. The older son is in Saratoga Springs, where he went to college, and is now completing courses online. Lafave and their younger son are at a “relatively low density” weekend home in the Catskills. Burns continues to live at the family’s Upper West Side apartment on 110th and Riverside Drive. He walks two miles to work to get to his office on 73rd and Broadway. “I feel so deeply fortunate to live in this extraordinary city and to be able to walk to work,” he says.

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Burns says he is currently working on a film about Dante Alighieri, while also completing the latest episode of a documentary series on New York City and its complex interfaces with the world.  This latest segment was designed to cover topics ranging from climate to government infrastructure and policy. “It’s incredible that the one thing that was not going to be included was a global pandemic.” Now, the response to the coronavirus touches on all the key elements of the upcoming documentary. “New Yorkers are innovators and problem solvers and no doubt will bring those characteristics to bear in these daunting circumstances. We are also compassionate and tend to look out for each other. There is nowhere I would rather be.”

Burns says social distancing at 6′ range is doable. In terms of food, “I have enough for two weeks, within reason. Kale won’t last that long,” he says. Burns says he’s noticed how the community is reacting to news updates with “the ebb and flow ” depending what’s been on the news, particularly in reaction to Mayor de Blasio’s comments about the likelihood of “shelter in place” restrictions. Quoting Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida, “One trouble of nature makes the whole world kin,” says Burns.

Lists are key

Luisa Kroll likes being organized and almost instinctively gravitated to the advice offered by HGTV’s Hometown, Erin Napier. The key message Luisa took to heart was that successful management of food supply and readiness for a possible long-time “shelter in place” depends on lists. Luisa accepted this recommendation. She prepared and has been maintaining four lists as a way to keep track of her household needs and to monitor when food supplies are running low and optimally should be replaced.

Kroll family

Kroll family

The lists:

  1. What’s in the pantry (staples)
  2. What’s fresh;
  3. What’s in the freezer;
  4. What’s in the fridge.  “Fresh foods clearly are the ones you want to use first,” Luisa says. “You don’t want them to spoil and waste.”

Maintaining these lists and keeping track of what needs replacement is very helpful in a household where different food preferences are also an issue. Luisa, her husband Jim and teenage daughter Isabella are the most flexible. William, at 10, is more selective in what he can and can not eat. “So we need to make sure we have his pasta, and Velveeta Cheese Sauce, Macaroni and Cheese, white bread, turkey and mayo, and rice and pinto beans” explained Luisa.

Having food supplies available frees up time to concentrate on other family activities. Jim, a mortgage banker, is able to work from their Upper West Side apartment. Luisa says the children’s schools are developing online lessons and Facebook is an enormous source of readily available learning resources. Luisa has been creating a schedule of home-based breaks, work time and recreation.

Already several weeks ago, Jim took the family car out to Costco and loaded up on paper products and many of the staples. More recently, seeing long lines and empty shelves at neighborhood supermarkets, the family traveled up to Fairway on 125th Street for a varied supply of fresh vegetables and meats. Since they were already in the car, they made a run to Arthur Avenue in the Bronx for specialty items like prosciutto and fresh mozzarella. Also fans of the Albanian foods available in that neighborhood, they stopped by for some specialty items. “Oh yes,” quipped Luisa. “We also stopped and bought wine and bourbon. Like I said, having all your staples is important…”

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Lessons from Italy

Monica Fresco came from Milan, Italy, to live on the Upper West Side seven years ago. She is in touch every day via Facetime with her mother who is turning 84 this week and lives in Turin. The communication is important emotionally, and also offers lessons for life today in New York City. “Italians didn’t all take the coronavirus threat seriously at first,” Monica says. “Now, they’re in lockdown.”

Here in New York, Monica does most of the food shopping for her household of two. She says that as a result of regular pre-coronavirus monthly car trips to Costco on East 117th Street, “We have the basics.” Monica says that Costco purchases usefully complement things like bread and bananas and cabbage and other fruit and vegetables from local UWS stops. Although Monica is a skilled, creative cook who prefers to use fresh produce, over the past week she submitted to purchasing some frozen vegetables. She says she and her spouse have also been ordering for some time from Bad Apple, a service that sells fresh fruits and vegetables that are oddly shaped or do not otherwise meet supermarket visual standards.

What’s different now is the shortages Monica has found in some local markets. “I couldn’t find liquid hand soap or fresh garlic.” She explained the absence of garlic to its reputation for “having natural antibacterial properties.” Monica says it was disconcerting to see that while supermarket staff wore gloves, they and customers did not take care to distance themselves from others. She has started wearing a mask and gloves when food shopping.

Monica has been frustrated with cancellations and long delivery times from online food shopping services. The lessons from Italy in mind, Monica has purchased “strategic items” like tissues, numerous bottles of 70 percent Isopropyl alcohol, and hydrogen peroxide. In addition, Monica says that “usually when I wash clothes with laundry detergent, I add oxygen whitening that I buy at Whole Foods. We bought some tea tree oil to add to the detergent. Just a few drops are enough and easier to get these days than the oxygen whitening.”

Monica said she was happily surprised by her spouse’s effort to sweeten the anxiety of recent days with the purchase of gluten-free flour and first-time preparation of a tray of delicious chocolate chip cookies.

Well stocked and ready

Dong Kingman, Jr., retired Director of Corporate Communications at Marsh and McLennan Companies, has lived with his wife Elaine on the Upper West Side for many years. They’ve enjoyed its wide variety of markets and restaurants. Kingman says his wife does most of the shopping. Some favorite food shopping spots include Citarella, Fairway, Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s  and Zabar’s – all within a few blocks of home. It’s almost inconceivable to think about forgoing these pleasures and foods, like fresh caught wild salmon, which have become part of daily life. Will weekend finds like “fresh as can be eggs” sold at the 77th Street Farmers Market no longer be available?

Dong Kingman Jr

Dong Kingman, Jr.

But, if a city-wide “shelter in place” order is made, the Kingmans are prepared. “Our pantry is always quite well stocked and was even before this coronavirus crisis. In addition, our freezer space, while small, has plenty of sauces, broth and other food items that will see us through at least two weeks of ‘shelter in place’,” says Mrs. Kingman.

Kingman pantry

Ordering in is one treat that may not be impacted much. Kingman spoke enthusiastically about orders he calls in to Tri Dim West, a Chinese restaurant on Columbus Avenue and 82nd Street. Kingman is a regular with orders from the lunchtime menu. He and his wife usually share a shrimp and tofu dish and another with chicken and water chestnuts and vegetables, supplementing this fare with additional vegetables which is plenty for two meals and costs a little over $20. Kingman calls in once a week and is likely to continue.

Kingman sees “shelter in place” as an opportunity to take on home projects. He’s made a list of five, including tax filing preparation.

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We’re all in this together

Herb and Karen Goodhearted and Molly

Herb and Karen Goodheart and Molly

“We weren’t panicked,” says retired banker and financial coach Karen Goodheart, describing how she and her husband Herb, a retired dermatologist, approached food shopping in the early days of coronavirus awareness. They went shopping as usual at West Side Market near their home at 924 West End Avenue. Then, Karen tried an online service called Instacart.  “I had a very negative experience,” she said. They weren’t able to fully complete her order, although she said that was understandable given the current circumstances. “But I objected to their high fees.”

Since then, Karen noted that the market is offering its own online service, and the couple plans to try that. Also, beginning a few weeks ago, they started ordering from HelloFresh “for the fun of it,” says Karen. She has some misgivings because of her concern about environmental issues related to the packaging which includes some plastic, but it’s a nice change of pace to receive a box filled with the makings of ready-to-be-prepared meals. “We order two meals a week,” Karen says. This service provides a change from her usual fish and chicken dinners, particularly since they can’t go to restaurants. Herb says he and his wife are very fortunate to be retired and also to have things they like to do to keep them busy. He is working on an update of his earlier book on dermatology, and she enjoys reading among other interests.

They are well stocked with dog food purchased at a local pet supply store for Molly, their cockapoo. Herb takes Molly out for long walks running and ball-throwing in Riverside Park every morning.  Fellow dog owners socialize, while maintaining a distance.

Herb noted that “the neighbors in our building have been wonderful. Young people have been offering to do errands for older neighbors and reassuring messages have been regularly posted via list serve. “There has been a real sense of leveling,” says Herb. “There are no movie stars, no street cleaners. We’re all in this together.”

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