• Faith,  Family,  Frugal Living

    Dollar Diet: Reflections on privilege and COVID-19

    Posting my usual updates on how the Dollar Diet is going just doesn’t feel right to me at the moment. COVID-19 is dominating the news, our shopping habits and our thoughts. Many of my friends around the globe are in self-isolation already, and I believe it will only be a matter of time before New Zealand takes that step as well.

    I was musing on the enormous privilege that I have as I watched a batch of my made-from-scratch pasta sauce thicken and boil away merrily on the stove top. Does pasta sauce do that to you?

    I am very privileged.

    I guess I’ve been thinking about this stuff because I am intrigued by what makes my society tick. There’s been a lot of shaming language relating to COVID-19 being flung about, at least here in New Zealand. People are ‘panic-buying’. People are being ‘selfish’. People are ‘overreacting’. People are ‘underreacting’. People are ‘not taking it seriously’. Where is the moral line that separates ‘panic-buying’ from ‘being prepared to stay at home for two weeks’?

    Having worked with people on the margins, I am deeply worried about how they will be affected in the weeks and months to come. Those of us who are privileged have a duty of care for them. Indeed, there are many people among us who we also need to check in on. Let me explain.

    I am not out there panic-buying because we already have plenty of pantry items due to having a fully-kitted-out emergency supply of food and water. We live in New Zealand. We have earthquakes. Sometimes really bad earthquakes. I was told that this is why New Zealand supplies are faring better than in Australia, because New Zealanders tend to have emergency supplies as a matter of course.

    The way I shop and meal plan means we normally have a decent supply of food in our pantry. We have four people to feed. Several friends who live alone have said to me that they needed to stock up in case they had to self-isolate, because they shop almost daily due to only needing food for one. When you live alone, it’s very easy for things to spoil before you can get around to eating it, so I know plenty of single people who shop this way. I used to when I lived alone! So before judging someone for stuffing their trolley, just remember it could be someone in this situation who normally has very little in their cupboards.

    The Dollar Diet means I’m able to take advantage of items on special and can afford to buy a few discounted items at a time. It’s not uncommon for us to have several boxes of crackers and soy milk, jars of peanut butter and gluten free pasta in our pantry, because when our frequently used items are on special, I snap them up! I am privileged to be able to do this. Many families and individuals aren’t able to shop like this because there is no extra money. An extra tin here and there is an impossible ask. It’s more important than ever to donate to food banks, soup kitchens and shelters, and to be generous with people in your community. We’re not even in self-isolation yet, but my local Facebook group is full of people offering to help. People are beautiful.

    Should the shopocalypse get any worse (although currently my local supermarket is fine…), I am confident in my ability to make what food we have stretch for quite some time. I am a pretty decent cook (having learned the art from my friend R), and know how to use up what we have. This is privilege (not to mention that having a home with a kitchen, electricity, pots, pans etc is a huge privilege in itself…). I know loads of people who might look at their cupboards in despair, wondering what to do with that tin of chickpeas lurking at the back of the shelf, a manky zucchini and half a tomato, and a past-its-used-by-date box of Chinese Five Spice. Many people don’t know how to cook, and are dependant on takeaways and eating out. They don’t have the basic skills, let alone knowing the skills of how to stretch a meal or making things from scratch. If you know someone like that, check in on them.

    I am currently housebound – not because of COVID-19, but due to damaged tendons in my knee (probably a knock on of last year’s car crash). I am under strict instructions to rest my knee for at least two weeks. I live with my supportive husband who can get groceries and do housework, and with two children who are capable of getting themselves dressed, fed and passing me the remote control etc. I’ve had friends drop meals around, been inundated with books to read and DVDs to watch. I have people who care and who are praying for me (healing is going well, by the way!). My community is a privilege. There may be sick or immune-compromised people where you are who live alone, and who have no one to ask for help. Again, please reach out to your neighbours and friends – particularly those who are elderly or live alone.

    The idea of self-isolating doesn’t fill me with dread. I have a family to interact with. My children are very entertaining, and I’m sure we can fill the time quite happily. But again, many people live alone. Not everyone has a wide circle of friends and a close family. Loneliness is a real problem. Check in with your single friends, with any elderly relatives. Maybe have regular phone calls, texts or Skype etc with those who are particularly vulnerable. Organise a online group with friends to chat and keep your spirits up. Make sure you include your more introverted friends who wouldn’t normally instigate something like that!

    Please stay safe and connected, my friends. Think of others, reach out. Be the village.