After several decades of marriage, I discovered my wife and I disagree on one fundamental issue. Actually, there are many, but let me concentrate on just one this week.
It involves our difference of opinion about the need to “stock up” on groceries in case of, say, the zombie apocalypse, a comet colliding with the Earth or a taxpayer revolt in the State of Connecticut. You should always be prepared, and you don’t have to be a Boy Scout.
I grew up in a home where the basement shelves were packed with canned goods, pasta, rice, beans, vegetables, soup, cereal, fruit, and just about anything you saw in the weekly Stop & Shop flyer. We also had a huge freezer that was filled with meats, ice cream, TV dinners, and frozen vegetables.
Having all that food, however, could create problems. On one occasion, I found a Friendly’s Fourth of July Jubilee Ice Cream Roll that was so old we could have auctioned it on the Antiques Roadshow. The Jubilee Roll had been buried beneath steaks, pork chops and hot dogs. Miraculously, it suffered only minor freezer burn.
That didn’t stop my mother from serving it on Thanksgiving. Everything was fine until my oldest daughter saw the expiration date and immediately told the assembled guests, at which point they started gagging and stampeding to the bathroom. Unfortunately, several relatives were injured in the melee. But I digress.
I don’t blame my mother. She grew up in an era before expiration dates. In later life, she would redact them with a magic marker to prevent us from getting the crazy idea it was OK to throw away food. She and my father lived through the Great Depression and went to bed hungry a lot of nights, so in our home, we always had a surplus of groceries — expired and unexpired. I subscribe to that philosophy. Why wait until you’re down to the last squirt of toothpaste before you get another tube? Why wait until you’ve eaten the last string of spaghetti before buying more Ronzoni? Why shake the Heinz ketchup bottle to death?
My wife, however, says we waste too much and believes there’s no need to buy more until we run out. That applies to everything from chicken breasts to potato chips … and toilet paper.
Let me tell you, widespread panic erupts in a home when a family realizes they’re out of toilet paper. The mob mentality takes over. There’s worse hysteria than the Wall Street Crash of 1929.
To prevent pandemonium, I keep a few extra rolls in the trunk of my car, along with Crest toothpaste, Gulden’s Spicy Brown Mustard and Vlasic kosher baby dill pickles. You can never have enough dill pickles around. They last for decades.
My mother was also known for stockpiling junk food even before the term “junk food” was invented. When you opened our pantry, you found a cache of Ring Dings, Devil Dogs, Suzy Q’s, Hostess Sno Balls, and the inimitable Twinkies. My sisters and I were the envy of the neighborhood. Fortunately, we still have our teeth.
In later years, when we took our daughters there for Sunday dinner, they’d sneak down to the basement, where the groceries were stored, and make off with stuff we refused to buy — Fruit Roll-Ups, Gushers and Starbursts. My mother believed you could never have enough junk food stashed away in case of a natural disaster.
I’ve tried to persuade my wife to change her shopping habits, but I haven’t been successful. A typical visit to the supermarket is like negotiating a nuclear arms treaty with North Korea:
Me: I attempt to put three containers of blueberries in the cart.
She: “We have blueberries at home that you haven’t eaten.”
Me, returning them to the display: “I didn’t know. You must have hidden them.”
She: “They’re right in front of your nose when you open the refrigerator.”
Me, trying to sneak Red Baron frozen pizzas into the cart: “We’re low on pizza.”
She waits until I’m not looking, takes the pizzas and puts them on top of the Charmin display.
Me: I wait until she’s not looking, push aside the pizza and grab the Charmin.
You see, it’s a fundamental law of survival: If have to choose between Red Baron and Charmin, go with the Charmin every time.
Joe Pisani can be reached at [email protected]