The Day the World Ran Out of Refried Beans

Mar 23, 2020 | Coronavirus, The Quiet Life

Like many stores around the country, the shelves in my local grocery store are stripped bare. At first it was just the toilet paper aisle, but like this virus, the empty shelves spread from there.

The eggs? Gone.
The soup? Gone.
The pasta? Gone.

Nary a can of anything can be found.

I stood there the other day, staring at the shelf where the refried beans were supposed to be. I bent low to see if any beans were hiding on a bottom shelf, maybe pushed to the back. Nope. None there. Then I reached high on my tippy toes to see if a can might be on the tallest shelf, way in the back. Nope. None there either.

Okay. No worries. I was planning on going to Costco after that. I could just grab some refried beans there.

But then? Costco was out, too. So I tried another local grocery store. No luck there either.

No problem. I’ll just go online, I thought.

At home I typed in one URL after another:,,,, The same three words kept appearing: Out of stock.

Imagine that. I literally can’t find a can of refried beans anywhere. I know it’s not the end of the world or anything. It’s not like my family is going to go hungry. We have plenty to eat. (But clearly I have not stockpiled much, for I am completely out of refried beans!)

I suppose we could still have tacos with just the meat and cheese and other toppings. But to me, a beanless burrito is like a chocolate chip cookie without the chocolate chips.

At random moments throughout the day, I have found myself thinking about the next time I find my favorite cans of Rosarita Spicy Jalapeno Refried Beans in the store (which is, I admit, a strange thing to be thinking about in the first place). In my mind’s eye, I envision filling my cart with enough cans to last a good long while because now I know . . . they might not be there the next time I’m looking for them.

The whole thing has reminded me of my grandma. She was born in 1906, so she was a young adult during the Great Depression. And I think it changed her. She had all sorts of funny quirks that made her more endearing to us. But still, we thought it was kind of weird the way she collected tubs of Shedd’s Spread Country Crock butter. After the butter was gone, she’d wash the plastic tub and add it to the large stack of identical tubs in her pantry.

One time I asked, “Grandma, what are you going to do with all those empty tubs?”

She answered, “Oh, you never know when you might need one.”

To be clear, Grandma wasn’t a hoarder. Her home was always neat and clean, but she was definitely a collector of odd things. Grandma loved Avon perfume, but when the perfume was gone, she’d place the empty bottle of perfume on top of her dresser with all of her other empty perfume bottles.

After making spaghetti, Grandma would rinse the jar that the sauce came in, and she’d place it among her many other jars. And every time she finished a loaf of bread (and she always ate the end pieces), she’d rinse out the bag that contained the bread, hang it to dry, and then add it to the other empty bread bags in her closet.

Now she did have an actual use for the bread bags. Grandma was great at crocheting afghans, but she would also twist up the bread bags and crochet them into floor mats. She had one mat on her back porch and another one on her front porch. She even made a bread-bag-mat for my mom, who I don’t think was super fond of using it, but we’d smile as we wiped our shoes on it before coming into the house, knowing it was one of those funny things Grandma did.

After living through the Great Depression, Grandma never let anything go to waste. She would find a use for every single item, no matter how small or seemingly useless. And if she didn’t know what to do with something, she’d save it until she figured out a use for it.

The Great Depression changed Grandma, and now, with this weird preoccupation I’ve had with trying to locate some refried beans, I’m wondering how this global pandemic — with its accompanying food shortage on store shelves — might change me. It’s commonly said that daughters grow up to become like their mothers; I’m wondering if I’m going to become like my grandma.

After this present contagion has ceased, will I forever be inclined to buy just a little more food than I normally would? Will I lay in bed at night wondering if I have enough pasta in the pantry for my family? Will I never again let our household get down to the very last roll of toilet paper before buying more?

Maybe. Maybe not. Time will tell.

But if one thing is certain, it’s that this current crisis has revealed something inside us. We’ve realized just how temporal our present reality can be. Life as we know it can be upended without a moment’s notice. What is normal one minute is very unnormal the next.

Reports indicate that the worst (here in America) is yet to come. Indeed, the outbreak is a serious matter. So, if a lack of refried beans is the extent of what my family experiences over the coming weeks, we will have fared well. But it’s also fair to say that few of us will be the same after this is over. Exactly how much this virus changes us, though, remains to be seen.

How has your life already changed with the food shortages and the social distancing?


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Denise J. Hughes

Denise J. Hughes

Denise writes about “the quiet life” — a phrase found in 1 Thessalonians 4:11. It’s a vision for living counterculturally in a loud and restless world. She is the author of Deeper Waters and the General Editor of the CSB (in)courage Devotional Bible. Denise lives in North Carolina with her husband and three kids.


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