I realized recently that I have an addiction to grocery shopping. I go two to five times a week. After a bad day, usually most week days and Sundays, there is nothing like walking down the aisles of Safeway or Trader Joe’s. The shopping cart making that delightful rickety sound; all the lights and colors; the waxy, shiny fruit—grocery shopping is a sexy, sexy experience. I get hot and bothered when Barilla pasta is on sale, 10 for $10. And oh hells no, organic tamari soy sauce in travel-size packets?! 20 packets for $4.99? Who HASN’T experienced the frustration of being on a picnic and wishing desperately for a packet of tamari! No one, that’s who, except maybe crazy people!
I don’t know where this compulsion comes from, but it probably has something to do with growing up as a poor refugee. This survival mentality has apparently affected me in a couple of ways. First, whenever I see food items that are on sale, I must buy them, never mind if we will ever get around to using them before they expire. Going through the pantry the other day, I found the Arborio rice I bought six years ago when I wanted to make that wild mushroom risotto! And there’s the dried wild mushrooms mix!
Paradoxically, though, growing up poor and unable to afford gourmet food also makes exotic and expensive high-end food items very attractive, now that we can actually afford them. Jameelah, maybe because of her own childhood or maybe because I’ve infected her, is also addicted. Every other day, one of us would come home with some crazy new food item. This is Seattle, with its creative hipsters making stuff like applewood-smoked-olive-flavored caramel sprinkled with pink Himalayan sea salt and hemp seeds, or organic lavender-infused coconut flakes mixed with truffled agave syrup-flavored goji berries or something. Once, Jameelah came home with some weird yellow spiky fruit. “What is it?” I asked. “I don’t know! But it was only six dollars for one!” Last month we bought a new fruit called lekima for five bucks; it was disgusting.
A while ago I was cleaning the fridge and came across a bottle of chipotle blackberry barbecue sauce and could not remember when or from where we bought it. It looked expensive and expired in 2010. Digging out the rest of the fridge and pantry we found all sorts of stuff we bought, some of which we can no longer recognize. That weird powder is either garbanzo flour or vital wheat gluten…or maybe polenta. “All right,” I told Jameelah, “We can’t keep spending money on food. Let’s do a use-the-[stuff]-we-have challenge this month. We can only buy fresh fruit and veggies. No more spices, processed foods, simmer sauces, etc.” She agreed to it.
It has been two weeks now since our challenge started, and it is hard. What the hell do we do with arrowroot powder or three-year-old garam masala? Wanting to not think about it, and lucking out on a babysitter, we decided to go see a movie. The theater was next to the World Market, a magical place with food from all around the world. We forgot our challenge and bought several bars of high-end chocolate. Then we ran into some olives that were stuffed with sun-dried tomatoes, so we had to have a jar of those. And we had to have these bottles of mangosteen and pomegranate soda. At the cash register, there were cans of sparkling muscato wine for four bucks each, and the novelty of wine in a can was enough to entice us to get one.
We ate and drank our goodies while watching the movie, then felt bad that we had failed our challenge with so much of August left. This is a classic symptom of addiction: You indulge in it, then you feel like crap afterward, and you vow to get better. We have to get better. Each month, childcare is literally more than our mortgage. Feeling awful and stuffed with strawberry-champagne-flavored chocolate and muscato, we drove home and made wild mushroom risotto.