First published in the NZ Woman’s Weekly 14.2.22
I don’t know exactly when “stocking up” becomes “hoarding”. Is it three packets of macaroni? Six cans of tuna? Or is it opening the spare bedroom wardrobe to jam in another mega stack of toilet paper and a carton of baked beans?
All I can say for sure is that, right now, my kitchen cupboards look better resourced than they usually do.
In pre-Covid times when life was full of travel, our pantry consisted of a little pasta, a lot of spices, the odd tin of tuna and an impressive range of teas. Dinner ingredients tended to be bought daily, swinging by the greengrocer on the way home from the airport to see what was in season and what was on special at the butcher’s next door.
Now, I look like someone who prepares for things. What we are vaguely preparing for is the possibility we might need to self-isolate for 14 days should we return, at some point, a positive Covid test. Not panic buying – that always feels rude and a bit like stealing from other people who also need things. This is adding a few extras at each trip to the supermarket, and feeling pretty darn lucky my budget lets me do that.
And also grateful about being at the stage of life where we’re not living with teenagers who destroy a pantry like locusts. I am no longer reduced to shouting, “Don’t eat that, I just bought it! It’s there to make the cupboard look good!”
The fun part has been thinking about the food I most like and wouldn’t want to be without. Cereal, it turns out, and coconut milk and the kind of yoghurt you make yourself, and also a particular baked pea snack. Apparently I would cheerfully live on nothing but breakfast and chips.
Though also (and I am ashamed to admit it) if I am at the supermarket and notice a near-empty shelf of something, I will pop one of the last few into my trolley in case this is indicative of a supply chain issue, and these will be the last – what? bags of rice? tins of chilli beans? – we might see for weeks.
Also, soup. I imagine self-isolating me will want soup because that’s what sick people traditionally eat and, while I know how to make a fabulously robust chicken broth from scratch, I might not have the energy to chop ginger and lift out the bones if I’m not well.
I am envious of people with a chest freezer in their garage that they can fill with comfort food for uncomfortable times. Making ourselves feel safe by controlling one small part of a world that is otherwise beyond our control.
I keep thinking of my great aunt Ruth and great uncle Frank who didn’t have a freezer, but who stocked their garage with bottles of pop (luxury!) and also grapefruit marmalade and blackcurrant jam made from fruit grown in the backyard.
My mother, too, bottling apricots and making jam back when it was cheaper than buying it at the supermarket. And then one year, after she’d spent a day or two peeling and chopping and leaning over a hot jam pan with the wooden spoon and pouring it into carefully sterilised jars, the jam didn’t set and she sighed, and started bringing home Rose’s ginger marmalade which it turned out we loved.
I must put that on my list for next time.