A few weeks ago the worst thing that has ever happened to anyone happened to me: the local grocery store abruptly shut down.
There was no warning. One day it was open, the next there was a sign on the door that some kind of serious structural issue needed to be fixed right away and the store was closed until further notice. Rumours went through the neighbourhood. The roof had caved in. The floor had collapsed. It was a nefarious plot on the part of the parent company to tear it down and sell the very valuable land for condos. The man in the hardware store on the corner told me the parent company wanted to buy up the whole block, tear everything down, and build a huge Shoppers Drugmart.
I will be the first to say that it was a bad No Frills. It frequently made lists of “The worst No Frills in Toronto”, of which there have been a few. The quality of the produce was decent, if you knew what you were looking for, but it frequently ran out of staples, like garlic or sweet potatoes or soy milk. What kind of grocery store runs out of garlic? This one did more than once. But as bad as it was, not having it is much worse.
Here are some things I have started rationing since No Frills shut down:
- Fresh fruit other than apples
Here are somethings I buy more of than before:
- Frozen fruit and veg, they keep a long time and are space-efficient
- Samosas. They have really good ones at one of the small groceries I go to in the neighbourhood. Not complaining.
Here are some things I have given up in buying period:
- Whole wheat pasta (they sell name-brand white pasta at the dollar store, that’ll do)
- Whole wheat flour (too heavy and bulky)
- Juice (too heavy to carry from anywhere else)
- Bulk toilet paper (too bulky to carry on transit)
- White vinegar (too heavy, not worth it)
Here are some things I haven’t figured out how to reliably buy yet:
- Disposable diapers and wipes
- Baby cereal
- Canned beans unless it’s an emergency (too expensive to buy in local stores)
- Olive oil (I found some reasonably-priced stuff at a fruit stand on the Dabforth but it’s hardly in my orbit or a reliable source)
It could be much worse. There are multiple small South Asian groceries in the neighbourhood, whose prices are on the high side, but carry a decent selection of fresh fruits and vegetables, dry goods, dried beans, and spices. There’s an organic grocery store for your $3 avocado and vegan marshmallow needs, and two dollar stores which carry an inconsistent but reasonable selection of dry goods. One even had baby cereal last week! (Personally I will buy name-brand food from a dollar store but not store-brand or unrecognizable brand. Call me a snob, I don’t care.) The possibly-nefarious parent company of the shuttered No Frills even runs a free shuttle bus to the closest No Frills, about 5 km away. It’s an infinitely nicer store – a friend who lives nearby refers to it as “Some Frills” – but there is no getting around the fact that what used to take 20-30 minutes out of my week now takes 2-3 hours, or that I have to think carefully about my ability to carry whatever I buy, or that I have switched to less healthy foods or rationed staples in an effort to save my sanity.
I know that even without No Frills you couldn’t call this a food desert – maybe a food semi-arid area? – and that eventually we’ll figure out a routine of food acquisition that ensures a reliable and reasonably cost-effective food supply without tearing our collective hair out. My kids will not die because I fed the more simple carbs or more frozen veg than before. But it still stinks and I would like to strongly register my disapproval of the entire situation.
In closing if you would like to buy me a giant thing of toilet paper and about 35 packets of vegan baby cereal I will not say no.