On the New York Times Diner’s Journal blog I came across an intriguing challenge from eGullet, “A Week Without Shopping.” Steven Shaw challenges readers who routinely do their grocery shopping once a week to skip the store trip this coming week and cook with whatever they have accumulated in their pantries and freezers. He came up with the idea when he had to miss his weekly Fairway expedition and realized that his shelves were loaded with plenty of good things to cook and eat; by the end of the week he was running a bit light on fresh greens, but overall he was chastened to realize how much he was in the habit of stashing on his shelves. He writes:
Surely I’m not alone in having a freezer and pantry full of food, much of which will get thrown out as it expires over the course of the coming months and years. Indeed, I live in a small apartment. People with houses, basement freezers and walk-in pantries surely have far more of this stuff lying around than I do. Surely I’m not alone in having overbought at the supermarket last week. Surely I’m not alone when I get home from the supermarket and can barely fit the new food in the refrigerator because there’s so much of the old stuff. Surely I’m not alone in being able to skip a week of shopping and still eat well.
The idea intrigues me. But I’m not actually a regular once-a-week shopper. I am a sporadic, sometimes chaotic shopper. Some weeks I plan ahead and make a big list and lug home a week’s worth of fresh provisions from Whole Foods. Some weeks I realize I’m low on staples and haul the wheeled cart over to FoodTown to make sure I have canned beans, a large bag of rice and a big box of cat litter. Quite often I find myself making a quick stop at one of the other neighborhood grocery stores to pick up yogurt, cat food or whatever else I’d discovered I had run out of that morning. I don’t have a weekly list, and I’m extremely inconsistent at planning.
This doesn’t mean I only buy what I need. I’m just as prone to impulse buying as anyone else, both of the good kind (“Ooh, look at those olives!”) and the bad kind (“Chocolate-covered Pop Rocks, are you kidding me?”). I know I have things on the shelf that sounded like a good idea at the time but have now lost their allure. I’d like to think I’m not actually obsessive or a hoarder; my shelves do not look like those of my sister when we helped her family move some years ago, and I found myself pulling can after can after can of soups, vegetables and beans out of her surprisingly deep cupboards. Many soups, it turned out, have expiration dates, and I was able to pull aside at least half a dozen cans that she had moved twice since they had ceased to be good to eat. (She isn’t really a hoarder either, but she had managed a charitable food pantry not far away, and that sort of thing will make you anxious to build up your own emergency stores.) I don’t have anything like as many cans as she had, but I’m not sure I can guarantee there are no expired goods on the shelves.
I’m not going to start this Sunday on the week without shopping, but within the next couple of weeks I am going to have to do a pantry and freezer purge and reorganization, and I’ll bet I find enough pasta, canned beans, grains and spices to form the basis of a lot of meals; maybe my challenge will be to limit the fresh ingredients to $25 for that week. For someone who believes in using fresh ingredients as much as possible, I’m probably going to find it very embarrassing just how many boxes and cans I have available to make use of. So I’ll certainly have to post the results.