My Empty Cupboards Project

For about a month leading up to my move, I stopped shopping for food. I was trying to clean out the cupboards and start over fresh. It was surprisingly easy. For a long time I was fine with meat from the fridge or freezer, for a few weeks I had fresh vegetables, and I had plenty of snackish food for between meals.

During the week or so that I moved my stuff, I had a hard time finding the motivation or the time or even the utensils to take care of too many meals, so I had fast food a couple days and pizza or sushi from Safeway a couple days.

Now I’m in the new apartment, and the project continues. I haven’t filled the cupboards yet. With the exception of a single cupboard that has baking stuff like sugar, flour, baking soda, etc., ALL of the food is in the fridge or on the counter. Having it on the counter has given me incentive to eat it, as it’s in my face and in my way. But it’s been about three weeks since I’ve moved and I’m still working away at the pile. In fact, I think I could continue this experiment for about another two weeks and still be ok.

A while ago I ran out of milk and eggs, and that had a huge impact on what I could do. Without those basic ingredients, a lot of the food became impossible. I couldn’t make bread or bake or do any kinds of desserts. A few days ago I broke down and got just milk and eggs, and that’s helped me along quite a bit.

Some of the things I’ve been making have been… interesting. There was an omelet made with mizithra cheese and diced prunes (it was actually pretty good), homemade tortillas with beans and salsa, beer bread with tuna salad, and other dishes. One of my favorite discoveries was that raw Ramen is an excellent substitute for rice cakes. Just open the bag, split the Ramen in half flat-ways (it’s easy to do), and spread jelly or peanut butter on it.

I’ve been craving a lot of meat, though, lately. I’d love to tear into a hamburger or a steak. And some of the food that I have left is more of a side dish, not a main course. I think I may break down and get some meat or vegetables so I can have the side dishes in a decent meal.

Another of my discoveries in this endeavor has been the strangeness of expiration dates. Perhaps it’s because of the dry and mold-free climate of this area, but I’ve been eating food that’s expired sometimes years ago. You’re not really supposed to keep your stored goods in moldy/damp areas, ie. basements and such, but I had corn tortillas that expired in February of 2008, and they were still perfectly fine. They were a little dried out at the bottom of the bag, but I sliced them up and baked them to make chips. I haven’t really come across much that I felt uncomfortable about eating, and some of it was canned food over a year past it’s date. I think either we shouldn’t be so prudish about expiration dates on food, or we should be using a lot less preservatives.

Yet another realization was that food just seems to accumulate in the cupboards, and sometimes just never gets consumed. There’s no good reason for it, just entropy. I have a can of jellied cranberries that is a few Thanksgivings old, and I just haven’t done anything with it. I could easily have it as a side dish with pork chops, but instead other foods have a much higher turnover in my kitchen. I need to be better about keeping the cupboards tight. The good news, though, is that the average family could probably survive a lot longer than they think if they had to.

The experiment will continue until all the food is gone. Then we’ll go shopping and stock the cupboards more wisely. As I scrape the bottom of the barrel in the coming days, I’ll probably buy one or two things to supplement the meals, but this has been an interesting and difficult challenge.