Thursday, September 13, 2012

To buy or not to buy

I am a big fan of minsumerism. I try to follow minimalism in all aspects of my life. And try is the keyword here. But one area that I find particularly challenging is my kitchen pantry. My pantry is a small space, a doored alcove in the kitchen. The shelves are stocked from floor to ceiling with dry goods that can feed an entire village, or so it seems.

Once in a blue moon, I organize the pantry. I get tired of not knowing what I have and don’t have. It gets on my nerves whenever I see overflowing shelves. The last straw is usually when I can’t find that one little thing that I rummage the entire place for and which I know is hiding in one of the baskets piled high with stuff.

In the process of decluttering the pantry, I purge most of what I have. Items that I haven’t used in a long while, items that are still in their original packaging, items that are part of a science experiment (not intentionally), items that I never knew I had...all of them go to the bin or the compost. It grieves me to realize that I am being wasteful, but I am relentless. I am on a mission. I have to pare it down to the bare essentials, at whatever cost. So that I can start with a clean slate and be mindful again of what goes in it. I solemnly vow not buy anything until the shelves are empty again.

While cleaning up, for a brief moment, I am tempted to throw everything in one big cauldron (not that I have one)  and make a concoction and freeze it, so it will nourish us for weeks to come. I say nourish because, everything in the pantry is healthy stuff, so the concoction has to be healthy, right? Anyway, I change my mind as I decide not to get minimalism and laziness mixed up.  

I don’t know what it is about shopping for produce that makes me a hoarder. Everytime I go grocery shopping, which is once a week, I shop like there is going to be an apocalypse..... tomorrow. As if I won’t have access to food in the foreseeable future. (Many times I eat like that too :-)) I go to the same store every week. It is my favorite grocery store. Just walking into it makes me feel like I have made a healthy choice. The sights, smells and sounds at the store are all terribly appealing to me. The whole ambience of the shop is conducive to creative culinary inspiration. It is a relatively small store. Browsing through the aisles is an education in itself. And they have live music performed by local artists that make the whole shopping experience feel like an excursion instead of a chore. Also, I love the free coffee and samples, especially the free coffee.

The shopping list I had judiciously prepared earlier in the day is at hand. I have to mention here that while making the list, my minimalist tendencies were still very much intact. But it all goes flying out the door when I am wandering the aisles all starry-eyed. My imagination runs rampant. My mind is flooded with wonderful creative ideas of recipes that never stand a chance outside the store doors.

The sight of fresh produce, a large part of it locally sourced and good, clean minimally processed food is mesmerising enough to trigger the chef in me. It inspires visions of healthy delectable dishes that I could make with a flourish that would appeal to everyone at home - kids and adults alike. So it is indeed a terrible misfortune and an injustice to the grocery bill that most of these ideas never transpire to the dinner table. Anyway, back at the store... I get ambitious and the shopping cart fills up, fast and so does the pantry.

A couple of weeks fly by. I am still mindful. I make one or two dishes out of the ordinary. Everyone at home is happily surprised, including me. And then....fantasy rears it ugly head again. It starts when I come across this uber healthy and sumptuous recipe that calls for an ingredient I don’t have. I plan to make it for the weekend. So I stock up. But things don’t quite pan out the way I had planned that weekend. I decide to postpone trying out the new recipe to the next weekend or the weekend after that. And thus the plan remains a plan indeterminately and the recipe slowly slides off into the deep dark recesses of my mind. What remains is the package in the pantry dolefully waiting to be used up.

I am not a good baker and neither am I a good cook. I don’t improvise or come up with new recipes. I don’t follow elaborate recipes. If there are 8 steps to make a dish, I lose interest at step 5. And until a couple of years ago, I followed recipes to the tee - if the ‘preparation method’  asked me to walk around in circles while the oven was heating up, I did it. Ok I am exaggerating a bit, but you get my drift. And then I relaxed my attitude and found out that I didn’t poison anyone if I deviated from the recipe. It gave me a tad bit of confidence in the kitchen when the end result was actually palatable. Even so, nothing in my cooking habits justify being wasteful.

To put it in perspective... I spend more time walking the aisles of the grocery store in a week than I spend shopping for everything else in a year combined. If I had saved half the amount I had spent on groceries these past six years, I would have been able to cross off at least 8 different places in my places-to-visit-before-I-die list that require crossing an ocean. Shopping for groceries is not like shopping for clothes or furniture, where it is easier to ignore the in-your-face advertising and avoid shopping altogether. I and my family have to eat and eat well. And it is one of my priorities that it should also be an enjoyable experience.

It is obvious that there is a big disconnect between my intention and execution. As with all things, it takes conscious effort to not be impulsive. To make my attempt sustainable, I need to start small and pause when I reach for something I don’t need. So... the next time I am at the grocery store, I will stick to my list and maybe get one, just one thing that I don’t know how to pronounce. What do you say?

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