Day 1, Friday, March 13

It’s my birthday, and Friday the 13th, and a few days after the full moon. Maine Restaurant Week wrapped up yesterday — the Portland restaurants I visited were packed. When a friend and I were out at Tiqa two days ago, she got a text about workplace closure plans. Today, talk of coronavirus and shut downs is everywhere. In the afternoon, Portland closes City Hall, the libraries, Merrill Auditorium and the public health clinic. The schools remain open. I pick up my son from elementary school early. Hoping for some celebratory birthday ice cream, we head to Whole Foods Market just after 2:30 p.m. Bad idea. The lot is jammed and customers are parking on the surrounding roads. We wander around gawking at the surreal scene inside and looking for organic vegan chocolate sauce. There are bare shelves. Bare shelves. In Whole Foods. The pasta aisle is wiped out. Shelf-stable vegan milks and canned beans, almost gone. No organic hummus. The toilet paper is nonexistent. Yet we find the chocolate sauce fully stocked and with multiple vegan options. We head to the frozen aisle, and the freezer case, which I’ve only ever seen jammed with every manner of asparagus tips, edamame pods, açai berries and frozen mango cubes, sits empty. “Mom,” my son says, “I had no idea the shelves were white.” Luckily, the dessert freezer is packed with all manner of plant-based options. I grab a carton of organic soy ice cream, and we get out of the store as fast as we can.

Day 2, Saturday, March 14

Portland’s Gallagher Basketball League cancels the season, and we cancel our plans to watch my son’s game and then have lunch with my Dad at Copper Branch. I drop all my plans to run errands and go to the grocery store. For dinner, we order take-out from Nura Hummus and Falafel Bar.

Day 3, Sunday, March 15

Portland Public Schools announce a closure that will last at least two weeks. They induct parents as emergency teachers. Meanwhile, we’re running low on essential supplies — frozen Maine blueberries, whole oat groats, Maine potatoes, fermented hot sauce — and I’m suppressing the urge to pop over to the grocery store. Using the last of my Heiwa Tofu, I make BBQ tofu sandwiches and serve them with tater tots, roasted cauliflower and homemade lemonade.

A curbside pickup at Green Elephant in Portland. Photo by Avery Yale Kamila

Day 4, Monday, March 16

Portland’s downtown sidewalks are strangely quiet with many office workers now working from their homes off the peninsula. After lunch, Copper Branch and Nura close until further notice. Robin’s Table, a just-opened vegan restaurant in Biddeford, closes. The Green Elephant transitions to takeout. The city of Portland orders all bars and entertainment spots to lock their doors tomorrow, St. Patrick’s Day, and imposes an 8 p.m. curfew going forward. For dinner I heat Amy’s vegan enchilada meals, hauled from the depths of the freezer.

Day 4 , Tuesday, March 17

I’m up early, planning to go to the Portland Food Co-op when it opens. Then I check online: The Co-op is closed for restocking. Instead I get to Whole Foods, arriving a couple minutes before the 7 a.m. opening and find many others already inside shopping. No one speaks. Some people wear masks. Few make eye contact. The air is tense. But the produce section is fully stocked, and I get all the fresh foods on my list except organic jalapeños. It’s a different story in the bulk section, where most bins sit mostly empty except. The vegan deli section is almost empty, except for the Whole Foods’ house brand of organic tofu and a stray tub of The Bridge seitan. The shelf-stable vegan milks are fully stocked. The freezer section is better stocked than on Friday, but still running low. No toilet paper. I secure the last bag of Speckled Ax coffee and get in line. For dinner, I make minestrone soup.

Day 5, Wednesday, March 18

I’m deputized as a home school teacher, furnished with three days of curriculum materials and daily videos. Mostly, I’m spending my days washing a mountain of dishes now that the whole family is eating three meals (and 27 snacks) a day at home. Gov. Janet Mills orders restaurants and bars to close their dining rooms, but allows take-out. Everywhere, restaurants and markets continue to shorten hours, switch to pickup,  suspend bulk sales, dedicate certain hours to vulnerable shoppers or altogether close. My vegan friends across Maine report tofu and vegan meats running low or out at some supermarkets.

Day 6 , Thursday, March 19

It’s rainy and cold, the first day of spring. The shopping and dining news is more of the same. Portland stops issuing parking tickets for expired meters. Big Sky Bread Co. (which makes the Sprouted Wheat bread I like) shuts down. For dinner, I make ramen noodle bowls.

Day 7, Friday, March 20

Portland Public Schools and most other districts in the state extend their closures until April 27. The anecdotal reports are true: Vegan food sales have spiked. NPR reports on Nielsen data that chronicles the surge in overall food sales, with vegan foods posting some of the biggest gains: Oat milk sales up 476.7%; plant-based meat up 279.8%; and dried beans up 230.5%. In comparison, toilet paper sales are up 212.7%. I make three bean chili with corn and pan-seared seitan for dinner.

Day 8, Saturday, March 21

Another Saturday dawns and everything that was on our agenda has been crossed out and cancelled. Hannaford Supermarkets shorten hours. Royal River Natural Foods in Freeport and Trader Joe’s are asking customers to use sanitizing wipes before entering.

Day 9, Sunday, March 22

It’s Maine Maple Sunday, yet we’re not enjoying maple syrup over vegan ice cream at Maine-iac Maple in Richmond as planned. Even so, life in downtown Portland is still pretty sweet, since we have a bottle of Maine maple syrup to pour on our oats. The Totally Awesome Vegan Food Truck reports they sold out of food in three hours. I make lentil stew with barley and loads of herbs.

Day 10, Monday, March 23

Back to being a home school teacher, but my mind is on grocery shopping and restaurant food.

Day 12, Tuesday, March 24

I venture out to the Portland Food Co-op, where the staff greets me at the door, asks me to apply hand sanitizer, wipes every cart after it’s used and alternates 30-minute shifts at the register to reduce employee stress. The store is well-stocked, but no Big Sky Bread, of course, or Heiwa Tofu. They do have Freshiez burgers, Lalibela Farm Tempeh, Go-En Fermented Foods Miso, and Resurgam Hot Sauce. I also find dried lemon balm, an herbal antiviral. No toilet paper. The manager tells me the store will shrink hours further next week to ease a staffing crunch. He says plexiglass barriers will go up soon between the customers and cashiers.

Day 13, Wednesday, March 25

The all-vegan Frinklepod Farm Store in Arundel closes and instead offers $50 organic produce boxes compiled with other farms and a restaurant distributor. The boxes sell out in one day. At 5 p.m., Portland’s five-day stay-at-home order begins. We make burritos for dinner.

Day 14, Thursday, March 26

Lois’ Natural Marketplace closes both stores to the public and switches to curbside pickup. My husband’s business is deemed essential so he continues to make emergency home repair calls. I make black bean nachos with pickled jalapeños and vegan cheese for dinner.

Day 15 Friday, March 27

Hannaford affixes signs to the floor six feet apart telling customers where to wait in line. For dinner, I make vegetarian burgers. Without bread or hamburger buns, we put them in pita bread, and we drink homemade lemonade.

Day 16, Saturday, March 28

With all the big supermarkets limiting customers, a line stretches outside across the front of Whole Foods during peak shopping hours. I go after 6 p.m. when there are few shoppers, and the store is stocked with most vegan meats, plant-based milks and frozen fruits and vegetables, but is limiting purchases of many products. No toilet paper. But I do find frozen, organic pizza dough. For dinner, we order takeout from Green Elephant.

Day 17, Sunday, March 29

The all-vegan Lovebird Donuts in Kittery remains open and continues to quickly sell out of its doughnuts. Green Elephant closes after the evening take-out orders are filled. I make vegan sausage pizzas for dinner.

Day 18, Monday, March 30

Thunder last night and back to home school this morning. The Portland City Council votes to extend its stay-at-home order until April 27.

Day 19, Tuesday, March 31

Some Whole Foods workers at stores nationwide stage a sick-out, calling in sick to protest what they say is a lack of worker protections amid the pandemic. Many grocers have raised wages, including Whole Foods, and we’re all realizing the essential nature of grocery store staff.

Day 20, Wednesday, April 1

It’s April Fools’ Day and, no joke, the corona crisis continues. But a delivery from Homegrown Herb & Tea Tea and news that Big Sky Bread starts deliveries again tomorrow brightens my day.

Avery Yale Kamila is a food writer who lives in Portland. She can be reached at [email protected]

Twitter:AveryYaleKamila


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