My Pantry is Not Your Pantry

We foodies, and probably many people who are novice cooks, are watching all these online videos and Food Network shows on cooking from your pantry. But what does your pantry look like? Well, that depends on a lot of factors. However, with few exceptions, unless you were given a shopping list, like say on Symon Dinners, you won’t have the same items in your pantry as say Geoffey Zacharian. Like he was using artichoke hearts. I don’t keep artichoke hearts in my pantry as a matter of habit. It’s an ingredient I buy for specific dishes, and come to think of it, not that often. I should concede that Michael Symon puts his grocery list for the week online ahead of time, and he provides a very nice substitute list.

However, aside from just our normal habits regarding what we keep in stock, there is the issue of what you can get. Depending on where you live, access to groceries is different. For example, I live in Chicago and in a fairly affluent neighborhood. I can get groceries delivered the same day using third party services, and I can get curbside pick up at several grocery stores and specialty stores such as spice shops, wine shops, etc. I have family in Arkansas, who aren’t even in very rural parts of the state, who cannot get delivery at all, and even the order ahead and pick up services require them to plan 3 days to a week ahead because of wait times. And there are places throughout the country that are known as food desserts, so people have to travel a substantial distance to get groceries. And those are the people who can afford the groceries in the first place. Many people are reliant on food pantries, and so they may have little or no choices in what they have to cook with in their house.

Not to jumpt too far down that path again because I can get really emotional, but there is also an issue of food availability. First, there are regional differences. If I lived in Maine, I might have great access to fresh seafood at a better price. In Chicago, we are fortunate to be in the middle of the country, and so our groceries tend to carry a wide variety of foods. My local grocery also carries a substantial variety of ethnic foods, which offer great variety. My family in Arkansas already has access to some fresh grown fruits and vegetables. I am just starting to plant my herbs because we just had snow last week. And heaven help a vegetarian in Arkansas. We were there last fall and they have not jumped on that bandwagon. Good luck finding your jackfruit or tempeh in 7 different varieties. I don’t mean to bash Arkansas. I am sure a lot of the more rural states are similar compared to a city. The Chicago and Arkansas comparison is just easiest for me, because I know them both well.

And all those differences don’t even account for what could be substantial interruptions in the food supply chain. So far, we haven’t seen major disruptions. I have a friend in North Dakota who works in a grocery, and she reports everything is good there. My brother in Arkansas did mention a struggle to find certain meat products, but it’s based more on what is normally carried there so far. For example, their local grocery doesn’t often carry different ground meats. You get ground beef and sometimes turkey. Here, I can get almost any meat in ground form. But with some of the big plants shutting down due to virus outbreaks, who knows what things are going to look like. I’m not trying to panic anyone, but there is a real possibility that certain foods will become harder to obtain, depending on where the supply comes from and how much this virus spreads.

So, I heartily recommend checking out that substitution list from Michael Symon as I think it could be applied to any recipe, not just his. And be creative. If it sounds like it’ll work together, throw it together. And try to remember that you’re doing the best you can with what’s available.

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