Sunday, February 25, 2007

Larder Disorder: You Are What You Hoard

It started with maple syrup. One Sunday morning I found four jugs in our pantry and two more, partly filled, in the refrigerator.

Although we seldom eat pancakes, my wife had a reasonable explanation: “You wouldn’t want to make a hot stack and find nothing to put on it, would you?”

Since then, after researching friends’ pantries and freezers, I’ve identified a new psychological condition: larder disorder. We are not only what we eat, but what we hoard. Dread of deprivation reveals our fears and desires.

My study was triggered by the Cuban Missile Crisis. In Los Angeles, residents stocked up at supermarkets, which ran out of toilet paper. What was behind that particular panic?

Now Homeland Security is encouraging us to load shelves with canned food, bottled water and duct tape. Yet, aside from that, with 24-hour markets and online groceries, overstocking is off the wall.

My bugaboo is bread for breakfast, going back to a teen trauma when, on my first train trip, someone at 4 A.M. was selling coffee and nothing else, which left my empty stomach churning with caffeine and separation anxiety.

Ever since, I have needed starch to ward off the queasiness lurking in morning coffee and end up tossing out enough moldy crusts every year to make bread pudding for a battalion.

If you worry about naked hamburgers, the extra ketchup and pickle slices will eventually be used, but perishables can do you in. Anxiety about fresh fruit and vegetables leads to little flies on black bananas and a crisper full of rotting produce.

To offset larder disorder, Web sites will show you how to make a decent meal out of anything. Type in what you’ve got and download 214 recipes for capers.

Which reminds me: Is there any butter? I hate dry toast for breakfast.

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