Friday, June 29, 2012

Feed your face, feed your soul

Growing up, I remember going to my grandparents' homes and really being overwhelmed by their kitchens. On my father's side, my grandmother kept a refrigerator full of deli lunch meat, cheese, soda and snacks (not much on the veggies, however). Her cupboards always had cookies and chips and crackers.

My mother's mom had a fully stocked refrigerator, two huge chest freezers, a second old-style ice box fridge and a pantry --plus a smokehouse out back. You could always find a gallon of ice cream somewhere, plus just about anything else. Granny could feed an army and occasionally did --particularly around the holidays.

We ate like kings when we visited my grandparents. 

My folks stocked up much more modestly. We had plenty to eat, but Dad quit smoking and became a health nut, a manic long distance runner and a crazed gardener. Somehow, he talked my mother into canning tomatoes, corn and grapes and baking loaf after loaf of zucchini bread --I don't think it was her idea.

We had lots of that stuff, but not no much cheese; no crackers, usually, except saltines and cookies were something we saw sporadically at best.

Later on, after my folks split, things got a little tighter. Mom started buying the good cereal instead of just Raisin Bran, but there wasn't the sense of plenty we'd had before. However, even so, it was still a lot more than what I became used to as an adult.

In the dark, dark days, I remember getting by on cheap bags of black beans and medium grain rice. Sometimes, I'd buy cans of Mexican salsa to pour over it, to give it flavor. Other times, I'd get bottles of salad dressing with Arabic labels.

Whatever was less than a dollar.

Sometimes, the only thing in my refrigerator when I opened that door was my shadow and that scared me.  I worried about not having enough, but really, truthfully, I was never remotely close to going hungry --at least not for very long. There were times I felt like it was close, but I always had the beans and rice. I had friends willing to feed me from time to time and my mother lived just 30 miles away.

But I also had my pride and I kept my mouth shut about it. Most times, nobody knew how I was living or that I was just squeaking by. 

Still, when I panic about money, when I worry about how I'm going to get through a month, it always comes back to having enough to eat. The rest can be managed. Utility companies and lenders can be negotiated with. You can beg them to cut you a break, forgive some of the extra fees and charges; buy yourself a little time. If the worst happens, you can go to bed when the light fades and wash up in the employee restroom. You can catch a ride to and from work. It's only temporary.

Food is different. Everybody has to eat and you cannot negotiate with your stomach. It holds you hostage. The best you can do is trim back. When you're a little short, instead of the apples, you get the bananas because apples are $1.69 a pound and bananas are only 55 cents a pound --or you can buy jello. If you're a lot short, stick with the beans then raid the condiment packages left in the fridge at work to make another bowl of pintos seem palatable.

Most of the time no one even notices they're gone.

The fear creeps in when you're not sure if you can afford the beans and I've seen that. It's left a mark on me. I've probably written more about being afraid of going hungry as much as anything.

So, while I was planning my garden, I did something else: I bought shelves, nothing special, just inexpensive, but sturdy shelves. I also began collected canning jars and I started turning a little nothing space without much use otherwise into a pantry.

It's nothing special. Every time I go to the grocery store, I pick up a couple of extra cans of something, a box of this or that. I put it on the shelf. So far, it hasn't come to much --just a dozen or so cans, a couple of boxes of pasta, some powdered milk, two or three pounds of dried beans, a few packages of noodles and a 12 pack of diet soda. It's enough for a couple of days, but my stock will grow and I take nothing from those shelves unless I replace it with something new.

Every once in a while, I go to this little room in my house, just to look at it. I think about what else I should add. Canned meat has come to mind, but I hate tuna and canned chicken sometimes smells like cat food. There should be spices and tea, loads of things, but there's not a terrible hurry. The shelves are filling up slowly, but surely.

These days, I'm not so worried about where my next meal is going to come from or what form it will take. With this little gesture on my part, maybe I never have to worry again. If so, that's kind of a comfort --and one that's long overdue.   

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