Friday, September 05, 2008

Food and Money

Carl's hours have been cut -- now it's something like 3-4 days a week, 4 hours a day. A couple of days ago we went food shopping and I ended up having to bail him out with a dollar - he underestimated the $26 total.

We've been together 11 years now; our food philosophies are so very different, but it really only becomes apparent when the money gets tight like this.

-He's extremely underweight; has virtually no body fat. Since getting dentures last year and discovering that they don't fit properly, he's eating even less. He also smokes about a pack a day, maybe more. And yet, he's as strong as an ox. When we moved to NYC for a year, he moved most of our furniture up 3 flights of stairs to our ancient apartment, most of the time with a Marlboro clenched in his teeth.

And, he eats Little Debbies like they're going out of style.

-I, on the other hand, continue to pack on the pounds, mainly due to lack of exercise, since I'm not a big eater. I think I have a condition called myoadenylate deaminase deficiency, but have never taken the time to have it diagnosed or to invest in a supplement. That's for another day. Honest!

-Carl was raised in a household with six siblings and one working mom. They often went to school with their shoes duct-taped together. I don't think any of the kids finished high school. So we're not talking about a worldly bunch. Very salt-of-the-earth, very meat and potatoes. The type of mentality that says "Well, we're not officially poor because we can still afford to put meat on the table."

Carl is completely entrenched in that mindset. Any time I sit down to a meal that does not include meat (such as a spinach omelet or a cheese sandwich, or baked squash...) he'll look at my plate and say "No meat?" In our 11 years together, the one and ONLY area in which I've had the tiniest influence on him is in the area of flavorings. I can't count the number of times I will reach for the sage, or rosemary, or vinegar, only to have him say "Momma never put that stuff on anything...she worked 10 hours a day and raised six kids; she didn't have the time or the money for anything more than salt and pepper." But he doesn't complain about it anymore, even when I reach for the garlic. He still finds it odd that I use more than one pan and one spoon when making anything; he complains that I "mess up" his kitchen when I experiment, so most of the time I stay out of the kitchen (and on the computer) and he takes care of meals.

I was raised differently. My parents weren't rich or worldly by any stretch, and Dad was also a high school dropout, but they had lived together in NYC for a number of years before I came along, and made it their business to learn about various types of cuisine. Back in the 1960s, I stood out among my classmates because I knew the difference between Moo Goo Gai Pan and Baked Clams Oreganato. We went out to eat fairly often. Once my parents got into a loud argument with an obnoxious waitress in a diner we liked, who insisted that a seven-year-old (meaning me) would not eat brook trout and should order from the kids' menu. I not only got my fish, I ate it right down to the bone. She grudgingly gave me a lollipop (a green, broken one) and grumbled something about me being "spoiled." In my teens I subscribed to Gourmet magazine and liked to peruse cookbooks. I didn't cook much; just found food to be an interesting subject.

I like a steak as much as anyone, but could be a vegetarian if I needed to. I am not the least bit fussy about any food. Store brands, for the most part, are just as good as national -- another area where Carl and I differ. He thinks most vegetables are alien invaders from another planet, mushrooms in particular, and the ones he likes, he prefers southern style: boiled to oblivion with some sort of pork flavoring. One of the few instances where I will say "yuk." In fact, I've learned that when Carl mentions "vegetables," he exclusively means the kind you need a can opener to get to. If I'm talking about fresh veggies (the healthier type), I always have to say "produce."

Carl believes in a full, sit-down meal, with a beginning, a middle and an end. I will randomly graze -- heat up a can of green beans, throw a pat of butter on it, and call it a meal...then an hour or so later decide I'd like an egg. To me, food is food. I eat because I have to; try to make semi-healthy decisions, and then get back to the computer. That's why, when he says "There's nothing to eat in the house," I'm silently thinking, Whatchoo talkin' 'bout, Willis? There's pasta [which he hates, more on that later], rice, canned soup, plenty of canned veggies, frozen stuff that's open [another taboo with Carl: once it's been opened, he won't touch it a second time. It falls to me to make all-gone with it].

So, when we got to the grocery store the other night, his first stop was the frozen food aisle. Stouffer's, Marie Callenders, Swanson Hungry Man. And here we are with $25 to spare. I made a snap decision: I told him to get whatever he wanted and not to worry about me, then picked out one large potato, a few cans of store-brand soup, and my one indulgence: a can of Underwood turkey spread, which is apparently a new product. Carl ended up having a bowl of cereal for dinner and the turkey spread the night after that.

It irks me that veggies are now so damn expensive. My mom used to give me a bowl of green peppers, carrots & celery to eat while I read in bed at night. She cut and peeled the carrots herself, by the way -- they didn't have the pre-packaged stuff back then.

In the two years between divorcing Doug and meeting Carl, I fell into the classic single-mom eating pattern: Pasta, ramen noodles and processed stuff. I didn't even think about what I was feeding Wally. As long as he had something to eat, I figured everything was fine. We both liked pasta. So a couple of weeks after Carl and I started keeping steady company he came over for dinner and asked what we were having. As soon as I said "pasta," his eyes rolled, and I suddenly realized that yes, I was serving pasta in some form or another nearly every night. I didn't mind him pointing this out to me. But now, it seems the shoe is on the other foot, because if we're not having meat loaf, it's hamburger helper, or quarter pounders from Mickey-D's, or his favorite rice & hamburger concoction...he says he doesn't like chicken very much; he no longer cares much for pork. It all seems to have narrowed down to hamburger at least 3x a week. Seafood occasionally -- not fish, God forbid, unless it's beer-battered, and shrimp almost anytime.

Side note: To Carl, "pasta" does not include spaghetti. Spaghetti is fine; he just doesn't like ziti, rigatoni, spirals, bowties or other shapes. Go figure. If I ever suggested "couscous," he'd probably either burst out laughing or call 911.

So I guess the point of this rambling monologue is, I'm trying to figure out a workable strategy to eat healthy and save money. With the huge differences between Carl's eating habits and mine, it isn't going to be easy.

~I've edited this thing at least a dozen times since starting it Friday morning. New thoughts keep popping in.


Kay Dennison said...

God bless you!!!!! Been there; done that; shredded the T-shirt in frustration. My ex was sorta easy though -- "eats anything, loves children" more or less describes him.

The grocery store is most Americansworst nightmare. I get notes and letters from Inhumane Services reminding me how to eat healthy. And earing healthy is EXPENSIVE!!!!!! Sigh!!!!!!!!!!!

Volly said...

Yes, and we live in what's known as a "food desert." We're relatively fortunate compared to some neighbors -- we have a car to get to & from. But even the one near us is limited. A sad state of affairs, and Kay, I'd swear it wasn't this bad just a few years ago, across such a broad spectrum of the population.


Dana said...

We have this issue too. I tend to be a healthy eater, husband reaches for the oreos every night (then complains when son wants some). I'll be patiently waiting for your solution *wink*