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You can't always get what you want: An argument about what's essential during lockdown

Henry Oliver argues with himself about what is and considered essential goods and services

You can't always get what you want: An argument about what's essential during lockdown

Apr 1, 2020 Politics

Metro editor Henry Oliver argues with himself about what are and aren’t considered essential goods and services during New Zealand’s coronavirus lockdown.

So… day six. How are you holding up?

Not good.

Oh no. Why? Got a cough? Fever? Or just a bit of cabin fever?

My coffee subscription didn’t show up.

Um, can’t you just buy coffee from the supermarket?

Sure, you *can*, but do you think I want that burnt, old, dry stuff? No! I want my single-origin beans from a remote plantation in Colombia.

But I got some beans last week. I thought roasteries were still delivering during level 4?

They were, until the Government clarified what it considered essential. I mean, coffee companies are still roasting, if they supply supermarkets, but they can’t sell it to you directly. No more subscriptions or mail order.

Makes sense…

Does it?

Sure. We need to minimise deliveries, to get as many couriers off the streets as possible.

But I’m doing my best to stay home and getting coffee delivered helps me do that.

But you’re just transferring the risk you face and cause by going outside into one more stop for a courier driver which, for fancy coffee alone, probably adds up to thousands of stops per week across the country.

But companies can sell coffee to a supermarket who can then deliver it?


Why is that any different?

Because they’re maximising the efficiency of delivery, getting you essential food and supplies at the same time as your coffee. Or, better yet, if you’re able to, go to the supermarket yourself and save those delivery slots for people who need it more: disabled people, at-risk people, or people without ready access to supermarkets. Anyway, let’s face it, single-origin third-wave coffee is not essential in this time of crisis.

Who says? I can still get wine delivered. Or whisky. Fuck, you can still buy those shitty boxes of lollies and chocolate bars dressed up as a gift.


Hard to justify any of that is essential. And unlike coffee, alcohol is bad for you and it wreaks havoc in communities across almost every part of society. And what about sugar? It’s terrible for you, but there are still shelves of raw sugar in the supermarket. If you believe social media, half the country is baking their ass off. How much icing sugar is the country consuming right now? Not to mention the biscuits and lollies and fizzy drinks. And what about tobacco? 

So… what do you want? If you can’t get your fancy coffee, the supermarkets have to be like Soviet supermarkets? Just eggs, weird cuts of pork, and huge bags of flour.

Is that what they had in Soviet supermarkets?

I don’t know, but I watched The Americans and it looked pretty bleak. Actually, it might be time for a rewatch. 

What I’m trying to say is what is and isn’t considered essential is a fraught issue. What you’re used to, what’s essential in your family, culture, or class is going to be different to someone else’s. If someone can gorge themselves on novelty chocolate, why can’t I make a decent cup of coffee? Why can’t an elderly alcoholic walk to the shops to buy the bottle of gin he nurses over the week?

I don’t think gin can be considered an…

Well, pretty shitty time to make some go cold turkey when they’re used to drinking a bottle of gin every week. Now they’re all alone, can’t leave their house, family can’t visit and they can’t even take solace in a gin and tonic.

Because we’ve all got to make sacrifices to get this pandemic under control!

But who? If you’ve got a supermarket around the corner and your wants and needs closely align with those of the buyers for Foodstuffs or Woolworths, who now basically have a government-mandated duopoly on the entire New Zealand retail sector, you’re sweet. Otherwise, if you want something else and don’t have an alternative in your neighbourhood, you can get fucked. Your wants and needs are non-essential. I like coffee, sure, but that’s just me. We all need to be able to get the things we need, not just to survive but to make survival in our homes as normal as possible, so when we reach week three we’re not tearing our hair out and when we’re told that it’s going to be six weeks, not four, we don’t riot in the streets.

So where do you draw the line? This isn’t normal. We can’t pretend it is. And we can’t have courier drivers out there night and day satisfying the consumer desires of the country. It’s just not practical. More than that, it’s dangerous! Couriers could be the perfect, well, deliverers of the virus.

So could supermarkets, so could supermarket delivery people.


And why does the Government get to decide who can and who can’t make money for the next four or however many weeks?

Because it’s the Government!


So that’s what it does. Especially in times of crisis. It’s decided everything else and you haven’t been a whiny child about it. 


See? You know that cliche thing about accepting the things you can’t change, changing the things you can, and knowing the difference?


This is one of the things you can’t change. Go buy supermarket coffee next time you’re there and drink that for a few weeks. Is that so bad? Your bougie coffee will taste even better when we’re all freed from our homes. 


And have you ever thought that more caffeine isn’t what you need right now?

Fuck that. I’d drink instant over nothing. Fucked that they’re still doing Lotto though. That’s the most unessential shit of all.

Remember what you said about riots in the streets?

Yeah, but for me that’s coffee.

Ok, relax. I get it. Go feed your sourdough starter or something.

Yeah, I forgot about that already.

And stay home.



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