Telluride Daily Planet, Friday, May 1, 2020
I’m not sure I ever really liked grocery shopping as we know it, but now, given a choice of the pick-up version or the masks-on version, any charm that it did have has pretty much dissipated. I’m not saying I’m not grateful for having food, having the means to purchase food and for my current state of health — more so than ever before, in fact. But it does make one examine, and this time with feeling, the meaning of shopping, the meaning of the typical food we buy, the meaning of the process, or the lack thereof.
Recently a resourceful friend (and someone who really wanted to stick to her shelter-in-place commitment for long stretches) started a little recipe group based on the question, “What are you making with stuff that’s left over in your kitchen?”
She herself had begun plucking dandelion greens and then frying up the blossoms, having run out of lettuce mix, the kind we all buy unless we have a biodome or our garden is producing or there is local produce. This is a friend who has lived on communes and farms, is a skilled gardener and cook, a knitter, spinner and weaver. So she has some background in the meaning and beauty of both making things … and of making do with things. “I found a bag of millet,” she said in one email, “and so I’m sending along a recipe for millet cakes.”
It was timely and refreshing. I mean, it’s not like I haven’t done my fair share of making do (and sometimes pretty well) or even Googled the few random ingredients in a spare-looking fridge to see what the novel possibilities might be. Or made a one-note dinner and felt a certain relief in it, despite the naggy little voice of surfeit telling me it would be better if it were just a little more complicated or had a few more things on the side.
But I never really just sat with less is more for weeks at a time. Let some things go. Stopped wanting others. Stopped needing so much or back stocking or thinking of replenishment before something was not even gone or worn out yet.
I did ante in — to some a little surprisingly — with cooking a piece of organic beef heart from James Ranch that was in the freezer for the dog, a gift from friends. With no other frozen items at my disposal and having just read about organ meats (I grew up eating them, and have also been on vegetarian, vegan and paleo diets), I decided to take it out and make use of it. Take advantage of the nourishment. We did what one YouTube expert said to do, which was to cut it up, marinate it and then grill it, and it was plenty good. I felt thrifty and I felt grateful, two things, which in combination, were like cold stream water on my face.
The house I grew up in had a root cellar where, after harvesting backyard crops, we’d line up jars of canned cherries and pears and applesauce, and where garlic and shallots would cure. My dad loved bounty, organization and buying things in bulk and then reorganizing them. Humans, some more than others, seem by nature to want to stock up.
On the French side, conversely, the only real stocking up I saw across the board was in their wine cellars! Otherwise, the French family used local markets — some that had stood in the same places since the 16th century — rather than stocking up at supermarkets. When we lived there is the 1960s, our massive trips to the Army commissary for weekly supplies were seen as exotic and incomprehensible. All those bags!
All by way of saying, storing can be good, and not storing can be good; but sometimes just making do is even better. Today, as we all reflect on so many things about our blessed and precious life, my mind seems to wander often through timelines, including this one — through hunting, gathering, foraging, storing, shopping and hoarding. And then backwards through hoarding and shopping, and then pausing as if searching for something better — for more thriftiness, more gratitude in the simple things that nourish us.
We’ve so habituated ourselves to trying not to run out of things that when we finally, and out of necessity allow products and foods and accumulations to wear down and dwindle and disappear, we can reevaluate the goodness of all the empty spaces they leave.