Updated: May 7
By Fan Fan
COVID-19 tales from Vancouver, Canada.
I was from Zhejiang, China and I’m living in Vancouver, Canada as a French teacher.
After the coronavirus outbreak, I visited the online stores of Costco, Amazon, and Walmart every day searching for dried beans. On every single site, I was disappointed to see the phrase: “temporarily out of stock.”
I turned to independent stores specializing in organic foods and checked their websites many times a day. I learned a lot, both about beans and about Canadian agriculture as my search dragged on. I still couldn’t find my precious beans, but I came to realize, contrary to how I’d previously thought of myself, that I actually did have both patience and dedication.
I’m a beginner cook. I chose to start by focusing on beans. My friends praised my dishes, so a lot of my confidence was built on the beans. Beans made me believe that I had the talent to cook. Given more time and practice, I would surely become a goddess of the kitchen. Once, I treated my vegetarian friends to a cassoulet made with my favorite beans, kidney beans and lima beans. They not only appreciated the dish but praised me for eating healthy and being eco-friendly. Their kind words made me even more excited about beans.
Beans became essential to my cooking. Whenever I opened my pantry and saw that I ran out of beans, I started to panic. The idea of having to buy beans haunted me every day, and the more I searched in vain, the more I wanted them.
I couldn't help but mention cassoulet to my students as I was teaching online. I described it in French and showed them pictures of the dish. Those from China’s Zhejiang and Jiangsu provinces or the city of Shanghai responded that there was a similar Chinese dish popular in those areas. It essentially consists of stewed ham hock with soybeans. The discussion made me crave beans even more. As soon as class was over, I dove back into my search for beans.
Finally, I got lucky. Loblaw's Wholesale Club had kidney beans! Five kilos per bag! I was overjoyed. I clicked the “order” button as quick as lightning.
But somehow the “checkout” button didn’t work. I clicked “order” again and again. I accidentally added 10 bags of kidney beans to my shopping cart, but the website still wouldn’t process my order.
I forced myself to slow down and read the instructions on the site. It turned out that all orders needed to be over $150 before tax. 10 bags of kidney beans cost a little over $130. I needed to buy 12 to place an order online. What am I going to do with that amount of beans? Am I going to open an online store to resell the beans I can't eat? No, I can’t do that. Amazon is cracking down on epidemic profiteers. My friends who had praised my noble character would despise me. Can I consume all those beans myself? 12 bags of beans could last me a lifetime.
It suddenly dawned to me that I could buy other things to bring up the cost of my order.
I was born and raised in China. In the 1970s, every household was issued food stamps, which indicated how much food you could buy in terms of weight but didn’t guarantee what kind of food you could get. We called rice and flour “refined food.” Corn, beans, yams were called “coarse fare.” When my mother went to a food store, she was usually allowed to spend half of the value of her stamp on rice or flour. The rest had to be spent on beans, yam, or corn. It was an interesting contrast to my current situation. I ended up buying $125 worth of dishwasher pods, toothpaste, and whatever else I could think of just to get two bags of beans.
But it wasn’t over yet. After checking out, I got an e-mail from Loblaw which made me very nervous. Here's what they said:
“You may notice reduced stock while shopping online. We will suggest substitutions where available for your approval. Also, to allow all our customers the opportunity to shop, we may limit select items in your order...”
I didn’t notice which items had been reduced while shopping, but countless customers must be competing for certain things. What if they were competing for kidney beans and they had beaten me by milliseconds?
My precious beans, are you gonna come? I kept my fingers crossed.
Fan Fan was born and raised in Zhejiang, China. She lives in Vancouver, Canada now as a French teacher.