Our Covid House Rules and Strategies

I once had a wood shop teacher who was fond of saying, “always have a plan.” This sage advice lives in dialectical balance with Mike Tyson’s quote, “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face.”

Working class people, “essential workers,” small business owners, health workers and the elderly have taken a lot of punches in the face during the Covid crisis and will take some more in coming months. People in the “Zoom” class such as us, have fared better. I’ve been struggling for a metaphor for our times this week and settled on the idea that we’re in for a multi-year version of the Fyre Festival. While I was working on this metaphor over the weekend Kelly let me know that a not very good Washington Post editorialist beat me to it. While the Fyre Festival analogy doesn’t work all that well, there’s a sense in which we’re all stuck on the beach waiting for Blink 182 to show up but knowing that they never will. And isn’t it pathetic that we’re waiting for Blink 182? Why can’t we have better music?

While, for now, we have our styrofoam packed cheese sandwiches and bottled water we probably shouldn’t expect Ja Rule and that entrepreneur dude to keep us fed. We’re going to have to improvise. And the virus guarantees that our lives will be consumed by a tricky ethical calculus that changes on an almost hourly basis. I felt the need this week to write down some game rules for the next few months. We’ve figured that Kelly may be in a risk group for this disease. And relatives that she is responsible for are also at risk. So here’s what we came up with as of ten minutes ago.

Minimizing trips to the grocery store
Many restaurant distribution companies have pivoted into home delivery. Johnnie at Granola Shotgun blogged about a Bay Area service he tried. We tried it this week via  The Chef’s Warehouse. It worked great. The food was delivered in two days. Quality was decent. Some things are available only in huge quantities but you could easily split stuff with friends and neighbors. If you’re in Los Angeles here’s a list of restaurant wholesalers now selling to the public. We also tried Vons’ parking lot pickup service. It worked okay but they were out of some items. And our local farmers market has a new app for pre-ordering produce that we’re going to try. Yesterday we ordered some takeout from a local restaurant we like and picked it up instead of using those parasitic delivery apps.

Seeing other people
We’ve decided that, for now, we’re not going to hang out with other people even if we’re all outside and everyone is wearing a mask. This is not just for our sake but to help stop the spread of this disease. For many of us the impact of Covid is out of sight and out of mind and it’s easy to think that it would be okay to start to go back to normal social practices. We’re just not there yet and I’m expecting another wave of infections. Travel is out of the question right now, in my opinion, and I don’t think it’s cool for city people like us to go out to the country and put people in rural areas at risk.

Building maintenance and construction projects
I’m attempting to follow the advice of my wood shop teacher and plan before running to go get supplies. When it comes time to get stuff for a few of the projects around the house that need to be attended to I’m going to patronize the sort of lumber yard that caters to high end professionals rather than big box stores. Generally these places are not as busy and you always get better service. This would be a good practice even if we weren’t in a pandemic.

Mental health
I’m trying to slow down and focus on details. I feel there’s a need to pay attention to the news but not get immersed in it. I’m attempting, not always successfully, to limit exposure to social media and news sources. I’ve been doing a few solo bee removal jobs and this has really lifted my spirits to be able to get outdoors and do something useful.

Community resiliency
We have a weekly Zoom call with our neighbors to check in, chat and see if anyone needs anything. Our church has a program to call and check in with people. Several months ago, after my volunteer work with the Bernie campaign ended, I joined the Democratic Socialists of America and have participated in book clubs and online organizing.


Masks

It’s sad that this has become so divisive. Wearing a mask is a common sense way to respect other people. There are many other cultures in this world (such as the Tuareg tribe of the Sahara desert and folks in many parts of Asia) where facial covering is an old practice and no big deal. While I have no evidence for this, I suspect that mask wearing coincides with cultures that have greater respect for elders. Here in the U.S. and, I’m looking at you Sweden, old people are disposable.

Areas for improvement
I’ve been bad about exercising. I’ve got Zoom fatigue. I want to see other people but know that we’re not there yet. I need to construct storage for bulk goods. The crisis has caused me to have a short temper that I have to be vigilant about. I feel like I’m really out of touch with the people who are risking their lives in low-paid work.

Non-conclusion conclusion
We’re lucky. We’re thankful to have a roof over our heads, a garden to tend and a backyard to enjoy. But I’m also trying to be realistic. Our comfort could end. A lot of people are suffering. Far worse things than Blink 182 could be slouching towards Bethlehem. But if I’m wrong and Blink 182 does show up and is less pathetic than I remember at least we’ll have a better bulk goods game and a few less weeds in the garden.

How to Store Bulk Goods

Our present Covid conundrum has a lot of us thinking about bulk goods. Collectively, we’ve had our illusions about the reliability of our food system shattered. This shouldn’t come as a surprise. Our “efficient” market system turns out to be not so efficient when there’s a crisis. As David Harvey puts it in A Companion to Marx’s Capital,

By rationalizing the way in which space is organized, you can save on movement costs. So the whole space-time structure becomes an organizational question of how capitalism works. This was the big innovation that the Japanese introduced into the labor process in the 1970s with just-in-time production, the tight scheduling of flows of goods in space and time such that you had almost no inventory anywhere in the system. This was the innovation which gave the Japanese car industry its competitive advantage over all others during the 1980s, and the Japanese raked in the ephemeral form of relative surplus-value until everyone else caught up. The downside of this system is that it is vulnerable to disruption. If one link in the spatiotemporal chain is stopped by, for example, a strike, then everything has to close down because there is no inventory.

So what to do for our households and communities? Buy food in bulk and eat from it. Restock as you eat.

Need some tips on how to store food? Utah State University has you covered. I’d emphasize the importance of buying foods you like to eat. And watch out for pantry moths. UC Davis has a nice fact sheet on dealing with pantry pests.

Lastly, share resources and techniques with your neighbors. Knowing the folks on our block, thanks to our neighbor Jennie’s monthly happy hour parties, has been helpful. We check in via Zoom once a week, trade food and backyard fruit and run errands for folks in deep quarantine. We need not equate emergency preparedness with the sort of destructive individualism partly responsible for getting us into this mess.

Our New Home Economics

A Home Economics class receiving instruction in cooking, Ottawa, Ontario, 1959.

I keep thinking of the conversation I had with Johnny of the blog Granola Shotgun on Monday. If you haven’t listened to it you should. Johnny is a home ec master whose lifestyle has been vindicated by this crisis. At the risk of over simplifying our doomside chat, Johnny basically said this: buy in bulk, use this bulk food for daily meals (We’re not talking about stockpiling MREs that you never eat). With Johnny’s simple method you’ll save money and eat healthier. As a byproduct you’ll have food in an emergency. That’s pretty much it. And you don’t do it to prepare for disaster you do it because it makes sound economic sense and cooking from scratch is a worthwhile pursuit in itself.

Friend of Root Simple Michael asked Johnny on his blog about what food preservation appliances he should get. Johnny replied, “Storage containers – filled with food you already enjoy and cook on a regular basis – would be my first choice.” The sorts of appliances and food preservation techniques you use depends on what you like to eat and what bulk items you have access to. Do you have fruit trees or a vegetable garden? Do you go fishing or hunting? Do you live in an apartment or small house with no yard? There’s not a one size fits all approach. But buckets full of stuff you eat on a regular basis works for almost everyone.

In my own case this crisis has highlighted food related practices in my life that are useful and those that aren’t. Bread making? Useful. Vegetable gardening? Wish I had one right now. Avocado tree? Thankful that it has fruit. Storage space for buckets? Need to get on that.

In the next few posts I’ll look at what’s working in our household and what isn’t.

137 Corona Crisis With Johnny of Granola Shotgun

Johnny’s bulk grain. Image: Granola Shotgun.

Johnny Sanphillippo of the blog Granola Shotgun dropped by the Root Simple podcast today to talk about a lifestyle that’s proving useful in our troubled times. I decided to put this podcast out quickly so please excuse the less than ideal audio on my end. During our conversation we discuss Johnny’s most recent blog post, “Recipes for Disaster,” which covers his tips and tricks for living frugally and being prepared for a crisis.

If you’d like to leave a question for the Root Simple Podcast please call (213) 537-2591 or send an email to [email protected] You can subscribe to our podcast in the iTunes store and on Stitcher. Closing theme music by Dr. Frankenstein. A downloadable version of this podcast is here.

Nassim Taleb on Why It’s Better to Panic Early About the Coronavirus

Why should we take precautions to prevent the spread of COVID-19? It’s not for our sake but for the sake of other people. This is one of the main points of Taleb’s video. If we can slow the spread of this disease we can lesson the impact on vulnerable populations. Personally, I’m unlikely to die from COVID-19 but I could easily pass the virus on to an older person who might. It’s another “Not me. us.” moment.

The other important fact is that the death rate for a highly communicable disease is not static. If our hospital systems are overwhelmed we’ll see an exponential increase in the fatality rate.

The time is now, if you can, to halt travel, to avoid large groups and to get ready. As Taleb says, it would be better to error on the side of caution than to not take this threat seriously.