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.
- 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.