Overthinking the Food Court Experience

A few weeks ago I was so delighted to have the opportunity to step out of rural village life for a couple of hours and make a trip to the city. Even though the occasion was a simple dental check-up that would likely only last 15 minutes, I still looked forward to the change of scenery.

Clearly I didn’t get out enough over the last 17 months, if a trip to the dentist was so highly regarded as a joyful escape.

I knew that by the time my appointment would be finished it would be close to lunch time. I strategically parked my car at a nearby shopping mall where I knew I would have had plenty of gluten-free options to feed my ravenous appetite, following weeks of yard work and apple picking that had my metabolism revving on high.

When the dental appointment was over I made my way back to the mall and started exploring my options. Regrettably, a couple of my favourite vendors were no longer there. I understood the way that the waves of the pandemic had not been kind to businesses given the unfortunate closures that resulted.

But the flow chart for deciding what to have for lunch was considerably more complicated than it used to be. Covid-19, thou art an insidious bitch!

By that point, I estimated that I had likely applied hand sanitizer at least 47 times in my journey to, from and during the dental appointment. I had no issue with the extreme precautions to keep everyone (including myself) safe. However, even if I ducked into the washroom to wash my hands for several minutes, the potential residue of a morning’s applications of hand sanitizer might have left a lingering aftertaste. I already found that out the hard way. I eliminated hand-held foods from the list of potential meal options.

Next was the issue of where to sit to enjoy my meal.

There was one small restaurant that I usually liked whose seating area was next to the staircase to descend into the restaurant. My mind went into overdrive analyzing the trajectory of potential patrons.

Some might be arriving from the street-level entrance, huffing and puffing from the walk. Some might be out of breath from the run to grab a quick bite on their break time. Some might just be winded from the staircase. No matter the scenario, all I could envision was a steady shower of aerosols, while I would have been sitting there with my mask off to enjoy my meal. I felt bad, but this was not an optimal location to have lunch.

When I went to the mall’s food court, my disappointment grew. Before Covid-19, I often sat by an aisle, enjoying people-watching as a side order to my meal. But now, sitting next to an aisle, next to circulating foot traffic, was completely out of the question. Have you seen the way some people wear their masks?

It is staggering how many establishments need to post diagrams on how to wear a mask properly yet people still don’t fully grasp what orifices need proper covering.

The only way to avoid accidental aerosols would have been to be in the absolute centre of a seating area of the food court, away from passersby.

But in reviewing those options, all I could see were kids (under 12 = unvaccinated) running and jumping like gazelles around the dining tables. Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against kids. After all, I was one myself back when dinosaurs roamed the earth. And I deeply admire (and admittedly, often laugh at) their random and uninhibited nature in public. However, let’s face it, an accidental cough or sneeze can happen so quickly. It’s not their fault at all.

Even though I had received my two jabs as soon as I was eligible, I did not want to put myself in the path of this many variables in the food court. I felt bad, but I knew that I would not be having lunch here either.

I remembered a sushi place on the other side of the mall that has its own “corral” for diners to enjoy their food. As I walked over, I realized the logic in sushi for lunch. I could hold a piece of sushi at a pretty good distance from my hands via the chop sticks. So far so good.

At the sushi place, I was pleased that it was pretty quiet. I found a pre-packaged salmon sushi box that would surely please my palate. I grabbed a drink and found a seat in an even quieter low-traffic area. It seemed pretty perfect.

As I removed my mask to start eating, it occurred to me that maybe leaving it on the table might not be the best idea, even though I could see an attendant cleaning the tables after patrons got up and left. Just the same, as a precaution, I carefully folded it, without touching it too much, and placed it on one of the napkins.

It felt very weird to be indoors, in public, without a mask for a few moments, but I reasoned that it was an authorized area and for a specific purpose. Just the same, I didn’t waste any time in inhaling my sushi, as all of this overthinking built up my appetite even further.

Even the question of where to safely park my chopsticks between bites invoked analytical processes I had never expected. We really did take the simplicity of the food court experience for granted back in the olden, pre-Covid, days.

In retrospect, I don’t think I was being overly cautious. Let’s face it, even when the infection rate is going down and local vaccination rates are well over the 70 percent range, we cannot let our guard down with the variants.

To keep my own bubble of loved ones, especially our aging parents, safe and healthy, I feel justified in taking such precautions, no matter how much I seem to overthink it.

Until we have achieved herd immunity and can truly contemplate a life closer to the normal we once knew, I don’t think it is possible to be too cautious.

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Have a great day,


Filed under food, Health and Wellness, stories

2 responses to “Overthinking the Food Court Experience

  1. Rachel May-Boland

    Good one André! I’m with you on the hand-sanitizers and not eating anything with my hands anymore! LOL! I think the norm in the future will be that many of us will continue wearing masks when shopping indoors, to avoid catching a cold or a flu after the pandemic is done! As a mom, I always had a little bottle of sanitizer and little wet-napkins in my purse, and although my kids have all grown up, I will continue that trend for years to come! 🙂

    • Allo Rachelle,
      Thank you so much for the feedback and comment!
      Yes, I totally agree.. even after the pandemic is considered over, I may still be masking, distancing and using hand sanitizer for some time. I haven’t had a cold through the whole pandemic — it’s been wonderful!

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