Sunday, February 26, 2012

Tales from Exile - The Siege Mentality


image courtesy of The Mag


The supermarket as temple. 

I've written before about the tendency to throw myself on the floor of the Waitrose supermarket around the corner from the hotel we stay at in London.  We're here again, twisting between delight and something close to misery as we scan the shelves of edible jewels that we are denied in exile.

Totalitarian rulers know the way to keep the populace most vulnerable is to keep changing the conditions, the prohibitions, the rewards.  We don't live under such an extreme regime;  however the random shortages of various staples and consumables tends to warp one's judgement. 

When we see say, Worcestershire sauce, we might buy three bottles, not because we drink the stuff, but rather because when we do run out, it may be six months before we see it in the supermarket again.  We can't predict what will suddenly become impossible to source.  In the last year, at various times we've had no wild rice, no water chestnuts, no capers, no vegetable juice, no muesli, no pine nuts, and for six weeks, there were no eggs.  My favourite brand of yogurt once disappeared for 4 months before quietly slipping back on to the shelves.  None of these are essential, life-threatening shortages, only unsettling.

This shopping situation changes one's behaviour.  We buy things when we see them, put them away in the pantry and then, we don't eat them.  We stroke the packages and count them, and feel a delicious anticipation because we know they are there on the shelf, waiting to be enjoyed.  We don't eat them because in many cases, we know we won't see them again, ever.  If I were more enlightened, I would enjoy my food and never treat it as some exclusive reward to be earned I-don't-know-how.

It is not only me  as the siege mentality strikes us all:  my friend R, who has just packed up for another international move, has been feasting on the remnants of her pantry, wildly consuming the odds and ends that have been hoarded over the last year.


 
Tess Kincaid's lost soul in the soup aisle doesn't look tempted to throw himself on the floor and have a tantrum or meltdown of ecstasy.  Just imagine it's me, pushing the trolley, pretending I live a few blocks away, and it is perfectly normal for me to buy luscious fruit and exquisite vegetables in sensible, quotidian quantities.


Thanks to Tess for the prompt.  Many artistic products can be perused here.

x

18 comments:

Brian Miller said...

ha. i have family who are like this...my SIL has enough food for the apocalypse...and then some...some of it i am sure has gone bad but she will def not throw it out...and if bad when she does open it she will take it back and complain until they exchange...ok i know i went well beyond your thought there but that is where you took me...smiles.

ninotaziz said...

I used to hoard stuff when I thought the sky would fall, nuclear bombs would go off or sugar would run out.

Now I plant tapioca and pineapples in the backyard.

But I still buy cans of Campbell Soup, baked beans and smoked oysters.

thingy said...

I don't think I have enough control to just gaze at my treasure, but I haven't been in your situation, either. Grocery stores are quite amazing, really.

Great post. : )

Brigid said...

Interesting post, Isabel, I would be the same myself in your shoes.

Jenny Woolf said...

I often hoard things which I can't get again - I mean if I have bought them abroad or something. think I still have some nuts in honey or something that I bought in Greece in 2001. Very decorative and far too good to eat.

Kathe W. said...

we just moved 350 miles south and I actually packed the solitary leetle can of duck pate brought back from France eons ago by my late father-in-law....at first I saved for something or someone special and now it's just an icon from the past.
Thoughtful post and an interesting peek into our foibles about food...

Jinksy said...

Quotidian is the crucial word there- it's harder to buy daily, when a trip to a supermarket miles away is your only source of produce, all small, local shops having disappeared...

Trellissimo said...

Hm.. all too true...

izzy said...

Unsettling indeed! my Mother saved scraps and bits of wax paper and
tin foil- for good reasons. Her larder like anyone else's held the odd jar or tin of special olives, sardines-capers-
Quite a few 'just in case' situations!
Thanks.

Berowne said...

True, I have stuff in the back of my fridge that has been sitting there for a year or two...:-)

Doctor FTSE said...

Beautifully written. And makes your shopping trips sound . . er . . . unpredictable.

jane.healy said...

This post rang a chord - my in-laws lived in Zimbabwe. (Need I say more?)
My first visit to their home I was shocked to see their spare room piled high with toilet paper, soap, toothpaste etc. I laughingly said to hubby that if the pair of them ate baked beans every meal for the rest of their lives they still wouldn't run out, it was a light-hearted comment but that was 30 years ago!

Tess Kincaid said...

Delightful write! Loved this. Help...no capers!

Lyn said...

There's a terrific restaurant across the street called Pan Quotidian..I trust they will be ever bountiful.would love for you to drop by, take home pine nuts! No need to hoard here..thanks for the clever laugh!!

JJ Roa Rodriguez said...

good one...

JJRod'z

jabblog said...

Siege mentality affects shoppers in UK around Christmas and Easter when the shops are shut for ONE WHOLE DAY! Quite extraordinary. Perfectly understandable in your situation - I'd be just the same.

Lolamouse said...

I'm the exact opposite. I know that I should buy more of things I have trouble getting, but I have only limited storage space and HATE clutter, so I don't. Then I curse myself when I run out and can't get more. We all have our little quirks!

ds said...

Even here, in the bowels of suburbia there are occasional, incredible gaps on the supermarket shelves. This requires a trip to supermegamarket and a snapping up of as much of the product as i can carry. A nuisance, minor. How is it that we have trained ourselves that we cannot live without certain things? Like capers (love those). Great, thoughtful write Isabel. Thank you.