Every event in my family centered around food. Every birthday, holiday, baptism, funeral, and wedding. Our family reunions consisted of table after table of chickens and casseroles, desserts and salads. Food was the celebration of life, and the suffering of death.
As a young child, I didn’t know how to deal with death, so I attached food to those I lost. It was my comfort when nothing else could.
Food became entangled with my emotions, my comfort when I was sad, my friend when I was lonely, my savior from girlish pre-teen traumas, which stretched my skin to new-found weight, which disgusted the little girl inside me, and led to anorexia.
Even as an anorexic, I never stopped thinking about food. I’d stare at the open fridge, dream of bread turning mushy in my mouth, longing for a popsicle to drip down my chin.
In high school, I learned to eat again, and my love/hate relationship with food turned to an obsession. Crackers and candy were stuffed in my locker, devoured in my bedroom, and snuck in the middle of the night. I even worked at a grill where I could eat all the ice cream, burgers, and fries I wanted. Only by then, I had figured out how to exercise and burn off excess calories.
Food problems have followed me all my life, though today, I am a healthy eater. But I still have this horrible, incredible, addiction to food.
I gather food like a squirrel gathers nuts, hoarding like I’m preparing for a disaster. My kitchen holds seven kinds of beans, flours I will never use, and seasonings I know for a fact will turn old (or maybe already are).
I gave up the Big Box Store:
This is the reason I gave up the big box club, the reason I had to stop shopping at four stores. I over-buy, though I don’t overconsume. I spend too much, emotions tied to purchases I don’t need, and sometimes, seriously, don’t really want.
The Big Box Club sold packages of tomato juice in cans of twenty-four, which we never drank, which expired many months before I knew they still existed in our fridge. The large bags of rice produced little bugs that crawled beyond the bag, and the peas turned to freezer dust.
And the four stores I once shopped at? Well, they are now down to one main store, with an occasional stop at another for items the first one doesn’t sell.
It is an obsession, a sickness, an emotional attachment I can’t let go of. But I don’t think I am the only one.
Our society is dominated by food. Why else would we have so many restaurants and fast food joints popping up all over the cities?
Food is tied to our emotions. Fear of running out, doing without, having less than someone else. Food is happiness, sadness, anger, resentment, jealousy.
What can we do about this emotional entanglement with food? And when is enough, enough?
First, I think we need to see food for what it is – energy for our bodies. We eat it, burn it, then eat more when our power runs low. Food gives us the fuel we need to keep moving.
Second, shop less. I used to make multiple trips throughout the week. I now stretch my shopping outings to one per week, less when I can.
Shop only one store. I can’t believe how much time, money, and energy I spent shopping at four stores. When I cut out three, an incredible thing happened. My food bill decreased, as did my stress levels. I also gained more time in my day, and of course, purchased less food.
Know what you need before you go shopping. Make a menu, if that works for you. Write a list of only what you need. I don’t know about you, but stores make me loopy. I forget who I am and what I want when I walk through those big glass doors. Without a list, I purchase anything and everything. It’s funny how even foods I don’t usually like look delicious in a grocery store.
This one goes with the one above – Know what is in your cabinets and fridge before you leave. Make a mental note, write it down, or take a photo.
Use what you have. If you have chicken, eat it. If you have two kinds of meat already, why buy more? Use those veggies and fruits before purchasing fresh ones. Use up the old before bringing in the new.
Learn to substitute. I love this part! It brings out the creative side of me. Substitute one bean for another, rice for quinoa, play with spices, make tomato-less tomato sauce with carrots and beets. There are many foods one can substitute for another. If you need some ideas, Greatist.com is a good place to start. Which leads me to this –
You are never required to follow a recipe. Just because a recipe says you need a certain seasoning, or ingredient, doesn’t mean you must use it. Make your own version of a dish.
Create your own seasoning mixes. Taco seasoning is just a simple mix of chili powder, garlic and onion powders, red pepper, oregano, cumin, salt and pepper. I’ve made mine many times without the red pepper. I also make my own garam masala and curry mix.
Budget. Admittedly, this one is the most difficult for me, and yet the most important if I want to keep my food purchases under control. If you find budgeting difficult, use cash.
Purchase jars or canisters for dry goods – beans, grains, flours, cereal. Limit what you buy to how many jars you have on hand. For example, if you have four jars designated for beans, and only one is empty, only one type of bean can be purchased that week. If you have two cereal jars, and both are full, no cereal needs to be bought.
It’s easy to buy too much of anything, but with food, emotions run deep. Deeper, I think, than with any other purchase we make.
Maybe food is more than just energy. Maybe it is life. Our tie to the living, our link to the dead.