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Audio: Food Behavior 10-5-2012

Tonight we built pizzas. I started from scratch with the dough. Yesterday I spent time learning about the recipe for concrete. I am thankful to say that our pizza tonight bore no resemblance to concrete.

We had pulled chicken, chicken sausages, Anaheim peppers, green bell peppers, jalapeno peppers, fresh tomatoes, sun dried tomatoes, feta cheese, fresh Parmesan cheese, cheddar and Havarti. Together we decided what to put on each pizza and where. It was my job to cut the vegetables, one of our friends cut the sausage and others put things on the pizza with plenty of supervision by the others. We put the pizza on a stove-top griddle used for pancakes since I don’t have a cookie sheet yet. When we went to put it in the oven, it was slightly longer than the oven was deep. No matter, we pushed the door closed as best we could and enjoyed the small amount of heat left over since it is cold again tonight.

As much as I have written about pizza it would be easy to think that we only ate pizza. That is not true. Mostly we eat fresh vegetables, grains and some “animal.” All things that moo, honk, oink, cluck or crow are animal at our house. We do differentiate but animal is a catch all. If you want steak for dinner you say, “Do you want to have some animal?” Sometimes a person will respond with “Did you mean the steak or the chicken?” Mostly it means chicken since steak is rarely here.

Vegetables are another matter. We are far more specific about vegetables. If you want lettuce you say, “could you get me the romaine?” Or, if you preferred red leaf lettuce you would ask for that. Perhaps spring mix strikes your fancy. You don’t say, “get me the lettuce.” That would be confusing to all involved.

Vegetables may be more specific than animals. If you like chicken, you like most chicken. If you like squash you might love yellow summer squash and butternut squash but the dreaded zucchini is not on your like-list. Coleslaw made from cabbage might be nice but Brussels sprouts, another member of the cabbage family, are not.

Some hypothesize that the difference between an expert and someone who is not is the level discrimination of detail. To an neophyte, chicken is chicken. To an expert chef or a farmer, chicken comes in many varieties. I want to be respectful to the difference between a Speckled Sussex and a Rhode Island Red. They are not alike. Angus beef is not like Hereford and neither are like a buffalo.

I am not sure what was in our refrigerator when it burned. I do know that as we were scrambling to get out of the house I went to the refrigerator and scooped into a plastic shopping bag with one big sweep of my arm all of the vegetables I could see since I knew we could eat them without cooking and I had no idea where we were going to end up. I think I left fresh boneless, skinless chicken breast and maybe some fish. I do know that I got the cottage cheese because we found it a week later in the refrigerator at the hotel. It was not something we wanted to eat.

The fire happened Thursday late afternoon. On Friday we did not know if our house had burned but we did know that it was going to be a while before we got to go back if it was still there. The information available on the television estimated 3 to 10 days. We went shopping. We ended up buying so many groceries we could not jam them all into the refrigerator and the cabinets in the hotel kitchen. I looked with wonderment at what we had done. We bought enough food for three times as many people as we were. I wondered then and believe now that it was some sort of compensatory strategy. If we had uncertainty in our life, and possible disaster, we would have enough food and more to face it. We were stocking up on things we had control over to compensate for what we could not control.

It was weeks before we were able to let that go. The refrigerator was constantly full to the point of bursting. The cabinets were full of food. After we moved to the new temporary house, a month after the fire, we brought what food we had and then we ate it. We did not get very much replacement food. After a while we had bottles of water, a half gallon of milk, some salad dressing, a couple of boxes of cereal, some tuna fish and a couple of bananas. I could not figure out why we left larder like that but it stayed nearly empty for a couple of weeks. Perhaps it was a compensatory strategy for moving from a hotel, a symbol of transience, to a temporary home which was an intermediate step between total loss and rebuilding our old home. Being a home was substance enough.

Food is not such an issue now. We typically manage to have a nice amount of food so that if we miss going to the grocery store for a day or two or three we are fine but the food is not bursting gout of the cabinets.

If I were to judge our psychological health by our food behavior, I would say that we are doing much better. We are not hording food to prepare for disaster. We are not ignoring food since we are out of the transient state. We are managing food, as we are managing our lives, in recognition of the need to have a real, if temporary home, as well as the dream of our new permanent home.