Planning food during a pandemic

In the days leading up to the COVID19 pandemic, photos of queues of people trying to buy food and that of empty shelves in supermarkets ( for some unknown reason toilet paper and pasta have been very popular!) have become the norm for a modern society used to having everything at the click of a finger (or a click on your computer screen). It is hard to get even delivery slots for food if you don’t want to shop in store.

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I saw this during early March when the panic buying had just started
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Within a few days, shelves were beginning to look like this!

I was also swept away by the societal urge or rather the herd tendency to stock up on food, although probably my shopping was nothing compared to the people who bought up shelves of toilet paper and even fought and got arrested over that.  I found that I had bought some extra onions and potatoes but its not too much of a problem to eat them.  Even then I have thought of some ways I could prevent myself from panic buying potatoes and onions or anything else.

  1. Make a food plan for each day and a grocery plan for the week: Write down a possible menu plan and what ingredients you may need. It is not always possible to find everything you need, so you have to be flexible about this.  Check if you really need to stock up a month’s supply of toilet paper or that you are a good enough baker if you are buying so much baker’s flour.  Food has limited shelf life and buying too much means you might end up having to throw it at the end.  There is a viral video of a man who stored hoarded items on top of his kitchen units, in the hallway, toilet and everywhere possible- creating trip hazards in the house and possibly, fire risks.  This also means that someone else didn’t get to have it- this is also selfish behaviour.
  2. If you really can’t find something, look up smaller stores: Many so-called ethnic or speciality shops have stocks of things not available in the supermarkets.  The last time, I looked they had toilet paper, pasta, bread flour and everything else- without the queues. Shopping at smaller stores helps them to keep going during the tough economic times. So it is a win-win situation.  I also learned some special recipes during my conversations when shopping.
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Smaller independent stores often have enough
  1. Look for long life items: These could be either dried foods such as rice, lentils, beans, etc. but also canned and frozen items.  I’ve no idea why people need so much pasta but I found that I could make many dishes by using brown rice for example- Chinese, India, Mexican, Japanese and Italian. Some fresh foods like onions, garlic, apples, and carrots also keep well for a long time.
  2. Freeze what you don’t need: I have prepared food and cut vegetables that might not keep in the fridge and so I’ve frozen these for quick meals. I have also frozen herbs (I found some on sale or about to be thrown by the shop and reduced).  Even opened canned food that can’t be used straightway can be frozen. I am also freezing milk in batches to use later.
  3. Share buying with neighbours: Buying in bulk will be cheaper and you may find that food shops will prefer larger deliveries, rather than small purchases.  Bigger shared purchases also bring down carbon emissions by reducing numbers of deliveries.  In my building, people have also shared shopping duties for older or ill people.  Many hygiene experts recommend washing hard items like produce, bottles and cartons while cardboard boxes, paper and cloth if left aside for 9 hours or more will kill any lingering virus on them.

There are many guidelines about disinfecting stuff bought from the shops.  But washing with water remains the cheapest and the most effective.  I’ve been washing all hard things like vegetables, bottles and cartons- a good habit anyway.  Research from the US National Institutes of Health found that the COVID19 virus survives for longer on cardboard – up to 24 hours – and up to 2-3 days on plastic and stainless-steel surfaces such as door handles, plastic-coated or laminated worktops and other hard surfaces. So it might be a good time to reduce the amount of plastic you have in the home! Of course, with fresh produce that is used immediately, the cooking kills all bacteria and viruses.

The researchers discovered that copper surfaces tended to kill the virus in about four hours.  So I’ve been using all my Indian copper and brass plates.  Coronaviruses can also be inactivated within a minute by disinfecting surfaces with 62-71% alcohol, or 0.5% hydrogen peroxide bleach or household bleach containing 0.1% sodium hypochlorite. Higher temperatures and humidity also tend to result in other coronaviruses dying quicker, so if you can, wiping surfaces with hot cloths or using steam cleaner might be more environmentally friendly and even cheaper. On can follow common sense hygiene practices handed down from ages like washing hands and wiping surfaces often, separating raw meat from other foods, cooking and serving to the right temperature. Many religious or cultural practices also require this- Jewish, Hinduism, Islamic, Indian, etc.

Finally the best tip is not look at supermarket queues and avoid social media or news stories about food scarcity- herd mentality makes people scared and buy more than what they need.  It is estimated that in the UK, people have hoarded up £1billion worth of food while some may go hungry while there is enough food and grocery in the supply chain.  Social media and news sometimes stirs up unnecessary fears.  Believe that you will find what you need or become resourceful enough to use what you have! As the Italian writer, Francesca Melandri, who has been under lockdown in Rome for almost three weeks due to the Covid-19 outbreak, wrote,

‘First of all, you’ll eat. Not just because it will be one of the few last things that you can still do.

You will count all the things you do not need.

The true nature of the people around you will be revealed with total clarity. You will have confirmations and surprises.’

(I have not printed her entire article but you can find it here)

Hope springs

‘And all the spaces of our past moments of solitude, the spaces in which we have suffered from solitude, enjoyed, desired and compromised solitude, remain indelible within us, and precisely because the human being wants them to remain so. He knows that the space identified with his solitude is creative; that even when it is forever expunged from the present, when henceforth, it is alien to all the promises of the future, even when we no longer have a garret, when the attic room is lost and gone, there remains the fact that we once loved a garret, once lived in an attic. We return to them in our night dreams.’ (Poetics of Space, Gaston Bachelard, 1958)

I’ve been very sad recently.  My childhood home in India which was locked up, had been burgled. Not satisfied with not finding much there (yes, we were very poor), the thieves then ransacked the place, even ripping apart the mattresses.  Even if a home has been a very humble place, with not many things there, it still has its memories. It was also my first home and a place I always went back to.  I learnt to walk there and play with the children who lived nearby.  Our school was nearby.  So many people came there.  The address is forever etched my heart.  My beloved uncle and my father both passed away there. That place was the centre of my universe for decades until I left but I always came back to it whenever I visited India from the UK. My British born children loved it too.

Then this burglary happened- totally out of the blue. I felt violated myself because my home was so intimately connected to me- it was who I was, it was my body. The mattresses that had been ripped apart lay on the same bed that my father had died.  I was angry and helpless. But there was nothing to be done. When I was praying, the thought came into my head, ‘You need to concentrate on yourself. There is nothing to be done by getting angry or upset’.  And then I read about the people in Australia who had lost everything in the recent bushfires- and precious things like their pets, photographs of their childhood, livelihood, etc.  Tragically some had even died trying to save their homes. I began to feel grateful that such physical evidences of my life were still there- photographs, mementos, and my memories too.  No one had been injured during the burglary.  I heard a woman say about her home being destroyed during the floods in the UK, ‘After all, it is just bricks and mortar.’  And I thought about all those people around the world who had lost homes, left their homes fleeing wars or other disasters, or were even homeless.  Suddenly I began to see a brighter side to everything- and really how lucky I was.

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Black mountain on fire, February 2020 (image: Wikimedia commons, Saritha Balram)

Then today, I saw this- a little tiny shoot of a cactus plant.  Cactus plants are quite difficult to grow at home from seeds but somehow this little thing had managed to sprout. I felt like it was saying to me, ‘Don’t give up hope.’  It is still a long way from becoming a proper cactus plant but I thought this little thing has struggled and found a way to come out of the dark sandy soil, so could I come out my own dark place.

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My tiny cactus plant!

A very green Christmas

This year, I am pleased to say that it was the greenest Christmas I’ve ever done.  All the presents were simple and inexpensive or even free, and bought from small shops (as opposed to buying from a large online store which shall remain unnamed!), and wrapped in old paper from previous Christmases or in newspaper (the Guardian does central spreads which are worth using as wrapping paper!).  My cards were all homemade using leftover card, ornaments and paints.  The food was all home cooked as ever. I made my own cranberry sauce this year- it was extraordinarily simple and very tasty.  Finally, my fake Christmas tree and its ornaments – all of which have been going well for the last 16 years!

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Repurposed packaging- one of these is a packaging which came with a plant
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Home made cards made of leftover cards and paper
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Our 16 year old fake Christmas tree
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My homemade cranberry sauce was very popular

The most powerful life tool you have

Every lesson you have learnt about time management, decluttering, managing your work, dealing with people, healthy living and finding happiness boils down to one thing- the choices you make.  Whether you decide to spend some time reading, keep a piece of paper, do a particular type of work, the friends you have, your weight and the fun you are having is down to the choices you have made in the past.  Buddhism says that if you want to know the future, look at the choices you are making today.  And that if you want to change your future, you need to change the choices you are making today- it is as simple as that.  However, despite being simple, this can be a daunting and not everyone is ready to throw something away- whether a piece of paper or a friend.  But as I have grown older, I think it is getting easier to let go.  But if you can do, you have the most powerful tool for living your life as you want- your choices.

This powerful talk by Caroline Myss is worth listening to if you have any doubts or are feeling you need some support in this area.  It really helped me.

 

On being authentic

I saw this at a not very posh furniture shop and thought about it- a lot.  It is trying hard to be something it is definitely not.  It is new furniture trying to look as if it is old- with mismatched bits like some cheap chic but ends up looking like an embarrassed DIY effort or worse.  IMG_1133.JPG

I wondered if we also do this same thing with how we present ourselves- trying too hard to be something we are not.  When we imitate others, or present an image of us that is not authentic, not true to ourselves.  It is worth keeping this photo in mind when we look at others, celebrities and other famous people, trying to be them.  You can only be you, warts and all- that is what this photo teaches me.

De-cluttering: part 1

I have just come back, having spent a couple of weeks decluttering my elderly and disabled parents’ home.  One of the triggers for this was watching a Youtube video where someone was describing house clearing after their parent’s death.  Don’t get me wrong- I am not wishing for an early death of my parents but this is was a practical necessity as my parents do not have the time and inclination to declutter now. They were brought up in extreme poverty and have got into the habit of extreme saving.  They have kept everything from scraps of rags, my school books to letters, just in case, even though they no longer had any use for these.  There was a danger from not only vermin infestation and hygiene issues but also the clutter was in the way of them getting about their lives- my mother often fell down as she hit something.  I have often helped other people after their deaths to declutter but with my parents, I wanted to do it now to help them to make their lives easier.

The decluttering was physically and mentally very tiring- I had to stop often and rest.  It is also very interesting to see what people collect towards the ends of their lives.  In the case of the people I had helped in the past, I remember a man with over 40 mirrors and a  lady with a room full of scented soaps!  In my parents case, while they used only 20% of the space and contents, the rest was full of books and stuff left by my siblings.  They also had huge amounts of kitchen paraphernalia and crockery- mostly not needed now as they only used one or two plates.  While I was clearing the stuff, I also went through my own therapy. I saw how what my parents had collected was also reflected in my own home- too many books and crockery!  Why did I do this?  Even though my parents must have influenced me, I cannot blame my parents as I have had enough time to correct this tendency myself.  But I found it very interesting to see how my childhood in a cluttered home had led to my own clutter and disorganised home.

Some people react in different ways to their childhood environments- some children grow up to be very organised as an antidote to their parents’ disorganisation.  In my and my siblings cases, we had all become very disorganized and cluttered as we grew up.  So when I returned home, I started to take a deep look at what was in my home and where.  My mother is especially grateful to me as we managed to sell some of the stuff and make some money.  However, I am even more grateful to her for letting me do this and also take the decluttering further and clean up my own environment.  For those who want to declutter, it might be a useful thing to examine the place they grew up in- it might offer clues as to why you are what you are now.  This decluttering of my own place has had effect on my own children- they have naturally begun to give things away and keep their bedrooms tidy- a small trickle effect.  This is much better and more effective solution than nagging at your children to be tidy.

Now the clutter of my parents has a very different origin to my own but the effect is the same.  My parents wanted to save every scrap of thing that they had because they were poor while I just have too many things.  So regardless of the intention, the effect manifests in similar ways.  Some people believe that by treating the cause, you will cure the problem.  But I believe that just like how you can change your mental attitude by forcing yourself to smile, in a similar way, this problem can be tackled by just removing the clutter.  As soon as I moved her stuff outside to the yard and the rooms began to look clear, my mother began to clear up other areas of the house herself.  She needed to experience the clarity of the space to get clarity of her intention.  It is said that making people clear up their clutter is impossible but I think through this experience, it can be done.  In fact, each person comes to the point when it all gets too much and they want someone to help them.  It is at this point that this kind of help can be given, not before.  My mother wasn’t ready before.  The fear of letting go of things is tied to the fear of dying, as people relate their possession of things to their lives.  Letting go is very freeing and empowering- that relates to both possessions and people!

Behind closed doors

Last week was half term. It was also the week that my neighbour left her flat, I think, forever.  She is 41, with a loving family and two children- aged 18 months and 6 years and dying of cancer. I first came across her, bubbly bouncy and very French.  I used to talk to her, waiting for the lift or seeing her somewhere in the building.  I remember her being pregnant with her second child, pushing the young baby, and then being a working mother.  Then she sort of disappeared.  I was busy and sometimes I passed by her door, thinking perhaps she’d left but I never knocked on her door to say hello.

Then one day, a courier left a parcel for me with her. When I came back home, I knocked on her door to get the parcel.  The person who opened the door was no longer the bubbly, bouncy woman I had known- a thin, tired woman appeared, barely struggling to get to the door. But again, I didn’t ask.  Bizarrely I am ashamed to say, I even thought, perhaps she is on a diet or something (not that she was fat anyway).  I thanked her and left with my parcel.  But something didn’t feel right. So a couple of days later, I emailed her to ask her if she was okay.  Then she told me that she had cancer.  Then over the next two years, I began to email her, sending her little gifts or books, things for her children and asking her mother about her.  I knew she had an aggressive form of cancer that was spreading fast, so I didn’t knock on her door as I didn’t want her to come to the door.  Over the two years, it was like a yo-yo, sometimes she looked good and positive, sometimes thin and tired.  I continued to pray for her.  I wanted her to win over this terrible disease and I never doubted that she would.

Then two weeks ago, I got this email-

“I went to the oncologist last Friday with my husband and was told that they could no longer offer any treatment. My last chemo did not work and will cause more suffering at this stage to continue with the current or new treatment. I have therefore decided to spend some time in France with my family for now.”

I emailed her to say, I’d like to take a photo with her before she left but she said, “when I come back”. I realised then that she didn’t want her photo taken and also that she was saying good bye.  And that all memories don’t need photos.  So I emailed her a sketch I made many years ago during of my time working and living in France-

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She thanked me and that was it.  Last week, when I saw the furniture and removals van, I stopped to ask her husband who was at the door.  He said she was resting and they were leaving soon.  I wished him well and asked to be in touch.  I don’t think I will see her again.  But her door, soon with new occupants, will remind me, why we must knock on doors and ask how people are.  Ask when things look not quite right, help and encourage people- you never know how short time you have with them.

Critical

I was thinking about how I used to like the ‘likes’ on my social media pages.  Now, they don’t matter so much.  So I began to reflect on why that might be?  I know that since starting these pages and sharing my thoughts, I have also began to clarify my feelings and experiences. Consequently I am feeling stronger and happier than I ever was before.  Childhood experiences often shape us stealthily and it is much later when we ourselves become parents that we start thinking about these experiences.  Thinking back to my childhood, I had a very critical father.  Some of my work involves being critical- writing and to choosing employees, etc.  But was I transferring my critical habits at work to my home?

Now, being critical has its good points and bad ones.  Critical people are able to distinguish between important issues, make choices and reflect on things intelligently.  In the fields of arts and literature, being critical helps us to edit and curate our choices.  However, taken too far, being critical, can be very dangerous.  Especially where personal relations are concerned. If someone is very critical, then they are less likely to have close friends or family.  Critical people also have a need to be in control and to have a say in everything.  Criticism can become all consuming anger at every one and everything that is not going someone’s way.  Having an overtly critical parent can turn to us to wanting love and attention in other ways.  Wanting ‘likes’ might be way of saying I need love and attention because I am not getting it in other ways.

I breathed a sigh of relief when my younger son announced the other day that he was not going to go for a school prize that is given to ‘popular’ children- that is popular with teachers.  He said that he would be pleased to get it on his own terms (he is a polite and popular boy anyway).  He didn’t want to do things like writing poems or ‘thank you’ letters to teachers for no reason, staying on for extra lessons (not because they want to learn but to earn points), smiling all the time, etc.  He said he just wanted to be himself and if anyone thought he was good, then it was fine.  Here was a boy who used to be anxious to see how many ‘likes’ he was getting in the social media posts.  I realised that I had become happier, let go of the past and become less critical, so my son was a result of the change in my parenting.

Moving away

Our early and later relationships in life can be shaped by our childhood.  People we are attracted to could be either opposite or similar to our parents or any significant person in our early lives.  It is only when we begin to move away from these ‘types’ and start to look for what makes us happy, then only we find people and things that do.  Marie Kondo, a Japanese organising expert, has started a trend to keep things that only ‘spark joy’ rather than concentrate on throwing things that we don’t like.  It is always better to go to things we love rather than run away from what we don’t like.  When we run away due to fear, we do not notice anything else- even things that might be good for us.  Its like we are running in a dark forest without the ability to pick or choose our paths.  This is a fight or flight reaction. Note that it is a reaction rather than a pro-action.  It is a situation where we are not in control.

But finding that calmness where we can decipher what is good for us or not, can take many years and decades to find.  It is only now, I find that I am much happier and able to find things and people who ‘spark joy’ in me.  It is not that I am not my parent’s child any more but it is more that I refuse to live by the past.  Of course, I wish that this had happened much earlier but then that is life. This is when it was meant to have happened and I am grateful that at least it has happened.  Now days, I am quicker to find joy and move on quickly from people that don’t bring me joy.  And strangely enough, I find that even people who I did not get along with in the past, are people I can now tolerate or even like.  By finding joy within, I am finding joy outside.

Community relations

 

About ten days ago, I went to a funeral of a neighbour. I had designed the ‘Order of service’ booklet which she had left to the last minute. Through doing this, I had learnt about the remarkable life of her husband.  I learnt about her life and her children.  From knowing nothing about her, apart from greeting her when I met her, I learnt so much about another person.  I felt uplifted by this experience.

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Unknown to me, she had mentioned to many of other neighbours who had come to give their condolences that I had helped her so much.  So couple of days ago, when I needed help to move furniture and sort out some house repairs, I was very grateful to have the help of neighbours.  My little act of helping someone had ignited the spirit of help across the block.  I regret now that it took a funeral for me to get to know someone and help them but also grateful for the realisation that all it takes for a community spirit to begin is to knock on people’s doors and ask them if they need help.  I am now helping another neighbour who is seriously ill.  So much of our modern lives are taken up with living just for ourselves or family.  Our human family is much bigger.  This is our privilege and honour to be part of this human family.