Surviving the holiday on our diminished food pantry

I survived our first potluck of the season, using only the resources we have and strictly adhering to the Armageddon Pantry Challenge rules. I resisted the urge to go buy some deli salad, plop a spoon in it and add it to the picnic table on Easter Sunday.

The good news is, the baked beans and the peanut-satay noodle salad went over well. The bad news is, I probably don’t have the stores to make those things again. Good thing this time of year doesn’t include many holidays, or people might be getting one of the 14 remaining boxes of cereal.

Of course, the first question from our family was whether or not we had cheated and shelled out for fresh ingredients to feed them. No way, I said. I did, however, make sure none of the ingredients were expired after the pudding incident. I had to scrounge around a little and substitute here and there, but overall, it was a success.

“I soaked the beans myself,” I proudly told one of my cousins.

“Okaaaay,” he replied skeptically, lowering his fork and letting the beans fall to his plate.

For the record, I’m saving a few cans of beans for nights where I don’t have time to cook. So the rest of the time, I’m soaking them overnight and cooking them in the slow-cooker. A few cans of beans, rice and whatever meat got defrosted has become my 30-minute meal plan. Sad, I know.

One of the most trying things about this experiment has been planning ahead for what we’re eating. Convenience food really is convenient. Planning and preparing meals takes a certain amount of time, which I think is one of the reasons people purchase prepared food or eat out a lot.

Now, I was never the kind of cook who buys pre-bagged freezer meals or Hamburger Helper (that’s my husband’s staple when I’m out of town). And I’ve never been the kind of person who bought into that 1950s housewife persona that takes credit for a whole cake when I just added oil and an egg to a mix and Betty Crocker did all the work. But now and then, it was really nice to buy a rotisserie chicken, some tortillas, cheese and enchilada sauce and whip up some enchiladas. That was our kind of fast food.

I feel better about myself and worse about the state of our country’s eating habits when I read, “How Much Time do Americans Spend on Food?” a 2011 USDA report.

The USDA’s study found that on an average day, Americans age 15 and older only spend 33 minutes on food preparation, including cleanup, yet they spend an average of 2.5 hours eating. Not only do we not have time to cook, we also don’t make time to consciously eat.

The survey also revealed a trend toward “secondary eating patterns,” meaning that people are not solely eating a meal as an activity, they’re doing other things simultaneously such as driving, working, watching TV or grooming themselves (really?). This last part reminded me of the Seinfeld episode where Kramer installs a garbage disposal in his shower and prepares meals as he bathes.

Well, at least I didn’t soak those beans in the bathtub.

Dear readers, thanks for all the interest in this project so far and your encouraging stories about military MRE’s, food you ate during the Depression, and other tips. Keep ‘em coming. Today is only day 37 of the Armageddon Pantry Challenge and I think this could continue for a while yet.

Erin McIntyre is a writer, master gardener and owner of the gourmet pickle company, Yum Pickles. Email her at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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