Searching for chametz

This is the time of the year, right before Passover, when observant Jews go through their kitchens and get rid of any foods with even a trace of chametz, or leavening.

We don’t do that. We keep kosher for Passover to the degree of not eating foods with leavening during the holiday, but we don’t go through the search-and-destroy mission. We just let those boxes of pasta and bags of flour rest quietly in the cupboard, backstage for a week.

This afternoon, though, I felt compelled to clean out our pantry.

It had reached the point of irritation: Whenever I looked for something, I had to pull four other boxes out of the way to see if it was even there. And I figured, now that we are empty nesters, there are probably a number of teenage foods that we really don’t need to stockpile any longer.

It was a little surprising.

I pulled everything out and found eleven — eleven! — cans of Trader Joe artichokes. Five cans of Amy’s Organic Lentil Soup that expired in 2011. Two jars of Ragu tomato sauce that expired in 2009. Four cans of “lite” and regular coconut milk  — although I have never in my life cooked anything with coconut milk. And so on.


I think there are a few things going on here:

  • Groundhog Day in the Pantry. Your shelves are so crowded and jumbled that you don’t know what you have. So at the store, you see the cans of artichoke hearts and you think, “Hmm, I bet we need some artichoke hearts.” Then you add them to the jumble and don’t see them. So next week, you’re at the store and you see the cans of artichoke hearts and you think, “Hmmm, I bet we need some artichoke hearts….”
  • The Cupboard of Good Intentions. The person I aspire to be when I am in Trader Joe’s is different from the person I actually am. In Trader Joe’s, I imagine myself as someone who makes dinners with coconut milk. Or corn-and-pepper relish. Or Mojo Cilantro Sauce. Or bean threads and pad thai and star anise. While in reality, when it’s 6 pm and I’m tired and hungry and want to get dinner on the table, I just hurl vegetables into a wok and dump on some soy sauce.
  • Laziness.
  • Inertia.
  • Time. Or — like a Jackson Browne line that is in my head a lot — “be aware of the time going by, in the end it’s a wink of an eye.”

Here is the strangest thing I found in the cupboard:


The expiration date was 2008…. but gosh, no one had been eating strained apricots in this house since maybe 1995.

I happily got rid of a bunch of packs of revolting teen-beloved ramen. I got rid of all the expired organic lentil soup. I kept one can of lite coconut milk since, well, you never know. Change happens.

It’s shameful to look at our trash can, now filled with cans of uneaten food. But the food banks don’t want expired items. And I’m leery of eating stuff that expired two years ago.

Now what’s left is the dreaded Water Bottle Shelf. If  you go to enough charity fundraisers or bike marathons, you tend to accumulate water bottles.


But if wasted food is terrible, wasted plastic is probably just as bad. Maybe worse. Who knows, it may take even more natural resources to make a plastic water bottle than a can of organic lentils.

Perhaps the water bottles are my version of chametz — something that is not kosher, not in keeping with what God wants.

We shouldn’t just get rid of this batch of bottles; we should also stop accumulating more.

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8 Responses to “Searching for chametz”

  1. Melissa Says:

    File under laziness, or maybe disorganization: You are in the grocery store trying to figure out what to make for dinner, can’t remember if you have any (name item) so you buy one just in case, and an extra, so you will be sure to have it next time you decide to make the same thing. Extra goes in cabinet, in front of the three others that were already there.
    You have inspired me. I’m going to clean mine out tomorrow. Really.

  2. Tom Moore Says:

    I just made a curry with coconut milk this AM…..

  3. nankiber Says:

    I believe that if I were to look, I would find my version of this exact piece somewhere in a journal–including the artichokes. And while I have cleaned out a bunch of scary shelves over the past six months, I have yet to deal with the water bottles…. Good luck. :)

  4. Ellis Shuman Says:

    You’re missing out by never cooking with coconut milk! It’s a great thing to add to pareve soups. You can ask my wife for recipes.

  5. susiew Says:

    Garbanzo beans. That’s the W-P version of artichoke hearts. God forbid we should run out of that emergency can of garbanzo beans.

    You totally hit the Trader Joe’s mindset! I have so many wierd sauces…..They sound good at the moment, then 6 months later, you go “what was i thinking?”

  6. Abby Caplin, MD Says:

    What a great post! This is hilarious, because it is so true! At least I don’t have the baby food jar. Um, I don’t think I do. Will have to double check.

  7. Anna Mindess Says:

    Thank you, Ilana. Can totally relate. Just checked the shelf where I put things from my trip to Kyoto last year where I took several cooking classes and seems was inspired to buy different kinds of seaweed, soup stock and fish flakes?. The labels are all in Japanese – at least I could read the expiration dates. Oh well, I had the best intentions.

    Also have a bottle of nutritional yeast powder that my daughter swore we had to try on her last visit home from college – at least that will last until 2014, when she graduates.

  8. Lynn Simon Says:

    Ilana, I’m chuckling all of the way over to my own pantry-of-good-intentions, where you’ve inspired me to take this project on, including what to do with the matzo meal and matzo flour from last year — still good? or better to spend the extra sheckels for fresh stuff. Thanks for my morning cup of laughs.

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