Suburban Man: Gravy days
Finding fulfilment in the bulk-bins aisle.
This article was first published in the December 2015 issue of Metro. Illustration by Angela Keoghan.
Not long ago, Hannah and I inherited a fridge from her late grandfather — complete with an ancient Tupperware container labelled “GRAVY” in shaky handwriting — and so we put our old fridge in the garage, just in case, you know, we might want to put beer or wine in it, or in case we found a deal on pet food or maybe we might buy half a cow.
This is how we roll in Beach Haven these days. We still get beans from Coffee Supreme, only now they get delivered by courier — 250g of single origin — and so does our wine, which we buy by the case whenever we see a deal, and it, too, gets left on the front deck, along with anything else we can outsource to other people to deliver.
For most of my adult life, I have operated what you might call a just-in-time provisioning model. This essentially involves waiting to run out, doing without for a couple of days and cooking creatively around a distinct lack of pantry items before finally going to buy three or four things and forgetting the others and then making multiple trips over multiple days, depending on what I feel like cooking.
Or, I just wouldn’t go at all. For about a year during what you might call my extreme market phase — this coincided with the release of my book about artisanal food producers, a period in which I felt the need to walk my talk about the evils of the industrial food system — the only thing I bought from the supermarket was toilet paper. Everything else came from the local farmers’ market or Farro, which I can assure you is an exceptionally expensive, though very satisfying, way to live.
I should also admit that Coco’s Cantina was just a 10-minute walk away and that may have saved me on more than one empty-pantry occasion.
Turns out, you can’t do that with a five-month-old in the house — there’s no time for daily visits to Farro, barely even enough for the farmers’ market, though I do try in the weeks when my very kind mother-in-law doesn’t shop there for us — and more particularly, it’s an approach that gives Hannah the heebies. She has a complete aversion to Running Out and so, after Ira was born, I caved.
For reasons I do not yet totally understand, except that it may have to do with the fact that I’m not the primary caregiver, it has become my job to visit the supermarket once a week, armed with a handy app, cheerily ticking off the options as I stroll the aisles, looking forward to a satisfying perusal of the noticeboard afterwards. (Recent items: “Leather trousers. Slimline.” “Flatmate wanted. Mature Woman Only. Beautiful house. Phone Mike.”)
When you tick off an item, the app puts a satisfying red line through it before it disappears, and it sends an alert to the other person saying you’ve deleted it, at which point Hannah usually remembers about five things she’s forgotten to put on the list, so she starts adding them and this creates a sort of feedback loop, me efficiently deleting things, her phone buzzing, my phone buzzing back — our phones have been permanently on silent since June 9 — which sends me racing back to the bulk-bins aisle for more roasted organic unsalted almonds.
And so it was that I noticed a trend I’d never noticed before: dads in supermarkets, strolling from aisle to aisle, their phones buzzing.
I get home, and find it immensely fulfilling. For the first time in my life, the pantry has two or three of everything, sometimes more. There are lots of cans, more than enough for three days in the event of a natural disaster, and back-up salt, stock and Colman’s Mustard. You run out and reach for another. And there are always plenty of almonds.