Exhibit A: I used to take all kinds of things from the law school cafeteria in my pockets. Tea bags, an uneaten half of a bagel, single-serving peanut butters, fruit. This was technically not allowed, but the thrill was worth the risk. My little law-school dorm room desk filled up with crumpled tea bags I kept on hand in case of any caffeine emergencies. Just to have. For later.
“For later” has haunted me for a long time.
Exhibit B: when I moved out of my lovely, large, rickety apartment at the end of two years in the Northwest, I still had my floor-to-ceiling pantry stuffed with dry goods, canned goods, jars of backup goods, and wine. I packed them into my trunk and took them to a friend, and we laughed about how truly insane it was that this was what I had left over. When had I thought I was going to use it all? No idea. It was for later.
Exhibit C: my current freezer situation is a bit much. It’s so crowded in there that containers routinely fall out when I open it, so I have to be careful to put things in front that won’t shatter if they tumble. There are prepared meals I bought heaven-knows-how-long ago, which I’m strangely averse to ever eating (because they’re for later!) Plus, lots of containers of leftovers, from giant pots of something-or-other I cooked just for me and then portioned out. It is nice, admittedly, when past-me takes care of present-me, but at this point I have to squeeze things into the ice maker area, and it just feels like a bit much, really.
My boyfriend and I have a joke about this, wondering what kind of crisis I’m preparing for. It has to be a crisis wherein the power is on, and will be indefinitely, but I’m unable to go to the several nearby grocery stores and unable to order takeout or delivery. (Likewise, he’s all set for a crisis in which we’re trapped indoors with no internet but the power is on. It’s DVD time, partying like it’s the aughts.)
Unfortunately, some version of my crisis is now happening, as I’m minimizing my trips to the grocery store. It’s also turning into some kind of competition, I think, seeing how many days I can go without needing to replenish the stores. At this point, thawing out the brown and leaky halved peaches from two summers ago, it might be time to admit defeat and go out for some fresh produce. “For later” is now “for now.”
It is not lost on me that there’s probably some deep problem being expressed here. Perhaps it’s an intergenerational, epigenetic manifestation of the Great Depression, my ancestors’ food traumas living out in me. Or maybe it’s just something about me alone, some psychological need to feel safe, and this is how I try to provide that for myself.
More broadly, we animals see scarcity everywhere, much more readily than we see plenty, even when both scarcity and plenty are true.
I often hoard food, but also time, and play, because of a deep nameless fear that there won’t be more where that came from.
I’ve joked about being a food hoarder for years, but now of course hoarding is in the spotlight. There are those people who are classically hoarding in the sense of buying far more than they need of things like toilet paper and beans (which, I mean, there might be a causal relationship there, and it seems preventable…)
On the other hand, a lot of people who are used to frequently shopping are adjusting with some difficulty to trying to have things on hand for a week or several weeks at a time. The bare-cupboard, one-day-at-a-time-in-the-kitchen people are probably a bit out of their depth now. I guess this could be my time to shine in helping them understand how to combine pantry things together into some kind of creative monster-meal.
Have you ever just closed your eyes, chosen a few cans out of the cupboard, and dumped them into a pot just to see what happens? Neither have I. Yet.
I’m ironically stuck in the middle: I’ve already got my backup-backup pasta, dry beans, canned beans, canned tomatoes, frozen vegetables. They’re probably past their expiration dates, so it’s lucky that I don’t believe in food safety (a topic for another time). I don’t need to stock up on those things that everyone else is seeking right now. So I feel a little relieved that even though I am indeed a food hoarder, I’m not part of the particular problem of the moment.
The time has come for fresh food, though, which means eventually I’ll have to admit the apartment-bunker’s defeat and go carefully to the store. Which is to say, I’ll have to be a squishy vulnerable little organism, just like all the other many billions of squishy vulnerable organisms, who cannot take care of ourselves alone. That’s life, baby.
But for today, I’m pleased to say, there are still leftovers and some strawberries. That’s plenty.