My Dad did a great job raising us as a single Dad in the 80s/90s without the benefit of the internet to google things about parenting. But…he was not a cook. I don’t remember anything fresh every entering our house other than the periodic bag of apples or oranges or bananas. Everything we ate was canned, frozen, cereal, or sandwiches. Our fridge always looked empty compared to the refrigerators at our friend’s houses. When I would babysit I would just be in AWE of the food in available to me and just considered everyone with a fridge door of condiments to be FILTHY RICH. Our “pantry” was…like one shelf in the cabinet with some cans of tuna, vienna sausages, beef stew, and a box of saltines.
I don’t think I ever considered how this shaped me as a Kitchen Manager until recently but one of the big effects it had on me is that I just don’t stock up on things. Like…there’s no part of me that feel comforted by full pantries or refrigerators because that was not our life growing up. I’ve never been one to really have a full pantry, even when had a quite large one in our first house. And then in our second house we had a huge room off the kitchen that…evidently…some used as a pantry but I scoffed at that. “A walk-in pantry? Who needs that?”
Everyone. Turns out that’s everyone’s dream is to have a walk-in pantry. And I turned ours into an office.
I have also never even considered having a separate freezer for anything. Why? My freezer in my fridge is never full! I remember in 2011 when our city lost power for 5 days, everyone was lamenting how hard it was to throw away all of the food in their fridge and freezer. And I was bummed too, don’t get me wrong, but it was like…maybe $100 worth of stuff? AT MOST.
In this house we have one small cabinet for canned/boxed foods. It has two shelves and it only ever really had one layer of cans/boxes and you could easily see what we had when you opened the door. My freezer was never full and just had a few things on each shelf and my refrigerator always had at least one drawer that was empty and we were missing one shelf on the door and it never mattered.
This has been my life for the 26 years I’ve been on my own. (And a full 44 years if you consider it was also the same life at my Dad’s.) We only eat out once a week so I cook all the time, but since I shop daily for that night’s meal based on sales/mood…I never feel the need to stock up on things.
UNTIL LAST MONTH.
Some time when the pandemic news was taking over Washington but not anywhere else yet, I spent the morning hours (like…before sunrise) hitting up all of the Wal-marts in town to stock up on food/water/paper products for my family, my Mom’s apartment (she wasn’t there yet), and for Eliah’s apartment because I was guessing his job/hours would be cut (and I was right). Luckily, it was before the rest of the city was doing this so I had my pick of the prime shelf-stable food. This, of course, was too much for my small pantry so I used some of Mom’s moving boxes to store cans etc.
In the time since the shutdown there’s a need for me to be at the store every few days. Sometimes for prescription refills, sometimes because someone is out of something important (like Mom was out of milk and she only ever eats cereal for breakfast) and so I’ve been trying to cram in re-stocking for both houses during those trips.
This is where the change comes in: I suddenly do not feel comfortable unless my pantry and my freezer are full. And my fridge is now packed solid with leftovers.
My kitchen life has completely changed over the last month and for someone who has not lived that way in 44 years…IT IS VERY STRANGE.
I had to make an inventory list for my freezer! So I wouldn’t have to dig stuff out to look for things! WTF? Who had a freezer inventory list?
I may have to start dating my leftovers! WHAT? I’ve never had so many leftovers that I have to DATE them.
And my cans? THEY ARE DOUBLE STACKED IN MY PANTRY. Who does that? Not me! Not normally!
I wish I had the foresight to document my kitchen life BEFORE this chaos to really show you how sparsely we lived. It was no concern when I hit the store every day for that night’s dinner. But NOW? Now if there’s any space in my freezer and I have to run to the store to pick up someone’s medicine I’ll grab a few things to fill that space. YOU NEVER KNOW, DO YOU?
I guess my point is I’m now living, normally? Like all of my friends did growing up? And how most households who aren’t living paycheck to paycheck do normally? I mean…really that’s not a lot of food. I know some people with much larger pantries and extra fridges in the garage or freezers…but for us? THIS IS A LOT OF FOOD. It’s the most insane thing I’ve ever witnessed in my kitchen.