This is the bottom line: I’ve spent under $60 for groceries this past week.
I decided early on to make honorable exceptions to the no-shopping challenge, based on our needs for fresh produce, dairy and eggs. Some items were bought for Shabbat, which is going to fall outside of the week’s time limit.
We have four people at the table once a day at lunchtime, with 1-3 at the other two main meals plus snacks. Husband takes sandwiches and fruit to work; Daughter takes sandwiches and vegetables to school. None of us have the habit of picking up a snack on the street, grabbing a latte or a couple of bourekas to keep going. Home-cooked, regular meals keep each one satisfied till a reasonable length of time has passed and the stomach wakes up again. With due immodesty, that’s because there’s someone at home devoting several hours every day to shopping, cooking, and washing up – your faithful blogger. I enjoy doing that. Well, the washing up, not so much.
To those who might say, “Well of course, you work from home, so you have the time,” I will say this: in the past, I brought three children up alone, working full time and traveling those buses back and forth every day. I fed my family home-cooked meals from scratch then too. It was simply cheaper and more nutritious. I have more leisure now, it’s true. Leisure enough to craft these blog entries for your entertainment and mine – but less energy to do the shopping, cooking, cleaning and energetic childraising that I did then.
Life has changed, and will continue to change. Not just for me. For so many of us, complacency recently vanished, and in its place stands an unfriendly stranger: uncertainty. We felt entitled to a good life, looked forward to a good future – to feel uncertain of these things can sure make us feel anxious. Now, from the White House to our corner grocery store there are signs of looking backwards to see how our parents and grandparents managed. How many of us have heard an elderly relative say, “I was brought up in the Depression…”? They are the survivors. We can learn from them.
The no-shopping challenge is a reflection of our times. I’ve personally learned some good things from it. I hope I’ve also grown up some through taking it on. I am not going to give advice here, although I may rant a little, just report the thoughts that crossed my mind while pushing my unique family, in our unique circumstances, through the Week Without Shopping.
The most important thing I’ve learned is to be realistic, honest with myself. I tend to let my imagination catch fire in the supermarket while I’m inspecting the shelves. Will I really make that gourmet granola, or will those luscious, expensive dried fruit and nuts just sit in the freezer forever? Do I really need more pesto, or should I just pass the packaged basil by?
I can dig a little deeper into myself and ask if my need to stock up is really a need or just a carryover from the days of little cash and lots of anxiety, when the sight of a full fridge and overflowing pantry gave me peace of mind. Doesn’t my peace of mind come from other things these days – shouldn’t it?
Peace of mind is often interrupted by wars, in Israel. Every so often, the Home Front will mail us a pamphlet advising us what to do in case of missile attacks, chemical attacks, or nuclear attack (G-d forbid). The pamphlet also tells us exactly how much food and bottled water should be in every home, according to the number of inhabitants. If we’re smart, we do as advised.
That is a given. These foods and water have to be used up and rotated, is all. I was ashamed to find a 6-pack of bottled water whose expiry date was a year ago. Alright, I watered my plants with it, wondering if it was really still safe to drink all the while. The next lesson I learned was to keep track of my stock to avoid wastage. Keep it where I’ll see it, or make a point of going through my supplies once a week.
I came to doubly appreciate the small, home-prepared preserved items I just reach for while cooking. Dried or frozen slow-roasted tomatoes; ghee, herb salt, rosemary oil, duxelles, dried nettles, dried thyme and sage, chutney, kefir, jams, pickled lemons, sourdough, pesto, wine, frozen stock – things I’ve blogged about here – and others. I have this thing about creating food from the most basic ingredients. The action of yeast upon sugars is magical to me; dipping a spoon into a bowl of yoghurt-like kefir topped with my own jam fills my soul with content. I’m grateful for that, for the products of these hobbies make cooking so much more pleasurable and tasty, and they’re not expensive compared to the same things bought in the supermarket.
The next big thing was the importance of planning ahead. Now I don’t see myself making out two week’s menus ahead of time and shopping to suit. Seasons are too short here for some foods, like peas, rhubarb, and the tiny wild artichokes called akub, for me to puzzle out the produce so far ahead. And frankly, I’m not all that disciplined. No one is calling on me to become so. But shopping for canned and packaged staples can be trimmed down and made more orderly.
I should go back to preparing certain things ahead of time. Cornbread and pancake mixes, for example. I used to spend 20 minutes sifting and measuring the dry ingredients, then dealing them out into plastic bags for freezing. With a beaten egg and a cup of milk added to either mix I could put hot, home-baked cornbread or pancakes on the table very quickly.
Have I gone through anxiety as supplies diminished over the Week Without Shopping? Yes, some. Have I gone without items I usually count on? Well, to eke out fresh tomatoes, I used dried or frozen. I managed without cottage cheese for most of the week, getting my quick easy protein lift from eggs or leftovers. That wasn’t hardship. The hard part was stretching my creativity. Like, how much semolina can I make my family eat? How to satisfy my husband’s love of meat when there are only two chicken thighs and two wings in the house? If you’ve been reading along here, you’ll have seen that it took some thinking, but it was done.
The amazing thing is that the freezer still isn’t empty; the cupboard is still far from bare. Until Passover, when I’ll really have to clean everything out, I intend to find ways of using up my existing supplies.
And now it’s time to attend to my challah – roast that chicken – get three meals ready for Shabbat. Thanks for following me on this journey, readers. I wish any of you taking on the Week Without Shopping, great discoveries.