In my kitchen, there’s a small cabinet above the oven. It’s too short and narrow for dishes, and just a little too high to comfortably use for food.
It’s my food stash cabinet. I keep a variety of food in there – all non perishable items of course. Crackers, granola bars, random bags of candy, dried fruits, nuts, shelf stable juice, etc.
No one is allowed to get in my cabinet. It was actually my boyfriend’s idea. He kept finding random food items on top the fridge, in the bathroom linen closet, and behind the pots. He cleaned out the cabinet one morning, put all my food inside, and promised to never get in it without permission.
Growing up, food was not always guaranteed. It came and went like the seasons. Sometimes we had an abundance, sometimes we had very little. There is nothing quite like the panic you feel knowing that you have no food in the house and no way to get more.
Feeding one or two people isn’t that big of a deal, but feeding over a dozen is a different matter all together. It was a first come, first served kind of deal.
When I left and got my own place (with roommates), I thought things would change. At my parent’s home, I would hide any food I didn’t want to share. It was food I had bought with my own money, and was not interested in divvying out. But in my own house, I assumed my food would be safe. I assumed I lived with decent people who wouldn’t abuse my trust and eat my food.
I am eternally too trusting, because of course they ate my food. I would buy an entire jar of peanut butter, only to have it half gone by the next day. I hadn’t eaten it. My boyfriend hadn’t eaten it. I asked my roommate if he ate it. He feigned innocence, of course. It got to the point where I was writing my name across all my food, reminding everyone (passive aggressively) that this was NOT THEIR FOOD. I mean, if they had asked, I would be more than ok with sharing. But they didn’t ask, and that was the real issue.
Moving away from that environment and into my own place with my now boyfriend was a change. I no longer had to angrily bite my tongue when my food was stolen ( or be laughed at or mocked behind my back as dramatic). I didn’t have to hide my food. I could leave it in the open, and no one would touch it. My boyfriend always, always asks first.
I think to a lot of people, it’s not that big of a deal. Food can be replaced, right? OK, but what if you’re poor, and it cannot be replaced. Or, maybe it can, but you don’t know when?
My anxiety is strong around food. I’ll save it until it’s within an inch of its expiration date, because what if I can’t replace it? I more than likely will be able to replace it. Why wouldn’t I? There’s money available, and the store is a ten minute drive. Logically, I should polish off that container of yogurt and happily toss it in the trash. But I can’t, because anxiety tells me I might never see another container in my life.
Last night I wanted to make oatmeal for dinner (it’s a thing now, yeah. I’m not sorry, I love oatmeal). I spent ten minutes debating on whether to use almond milk or water. Seriously.
If I used almond milk, then the amount we have goes down, and that means less for the future. But water comes straight from the tap, and there’s a lot more of it.
I ended up using water.
Even though we’re going grocery shopping in two days and I have half a gallon of almond milk. More than enough. Using 2/3 a cup of milk wouldn’t have killed me, but tell my anxiety that.
Anxiety is not rational, and anyone who suffers from it realizes that.
Half of me is groaning at my anxiety, rolling its eyes and shaking its head at the stupidity. The other half of me is running around shrieking, convinced we used the last drop of milk on the planet, and all hope is lost.
Dealing with food insecurity has led to some unhealthy behaviors around food. I’ve dealt with over eating ( “I don’t know if I’ll ever get this again, so I need to it all now”) and under eating (“I’ve eaten so much, I shouldn’t eat again for a few days”).
I even keep food in my purse. Usually granola bars, because they’re easy to transport. I keep packets of mayo and ketchup you get with your lunch at a restaurant or cafeteria. My fridge is full of them.
I hoard food until it goes bad, which is ironic, since you can’t eat it when it’s bad. Anxiety is not logical. It does not make sense. It becomes a habit, until you actively try and break it. Sometimes it’s like pushing on a door that says pull. You push and push until you’re exhausted and close to tears. You realize you could just pull the door open. Give into the anxiety and feel that rush of relief, rather than struggling against the fear in your brain.
But that’s not going to result in freedom, is it?