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The Toybox

people for the conservation of limited amounts of indignation


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budgeting, shopping, meat, and rice
children of dune - leto 1
seperis
Rookie mistake: shopping for food online when you're not hungry and feel like you never need to eat again because you glutted yourself on tamarind candy from Mexico that your coworker introduced you to never realizing where this could lead.

There are two things that deeply annoy me here:

1.) How did I not know tamarind a.) existed (I thought it was some kind of fantasy food?) and b.) was so fucking good? Like yes, I get I'm eating the compressed sugar-and-spicy version but holy shit.

2.) My shopping list was, to my experienced eye, remarkably functional with little to no indulgence (nope, one thing: English muffins). In fact, I am well under budget.

This may sound like a good thing but generally, no, it's not. My budget plan has built-ins for indulgence, and in general, I go over by at least 10%-15% each month, which is expected. Then why not raise the budget, you wonder? No, then I'd go ten to fifteen percent over that. Logic.

Anyway going under that hard this early in the month when I'm stocking up on staples as well? Not a good sign.

Sure, now I'm on a tamarind candy high and care not, but there's a reason I have that ten to fifteen percent buffer to buy snacks and candy and boomerang pies at reasonable prices. The reason is, if I don't, if I'm careful and methodical and stick to the healthy ingredient list and act responsible and shit, there will be many trips to the convenience store next door for overpriced Bear Claws, Reese's Pieces stuffed chocolate everything, and while I'm there, might as well grab an Orange Vanilla Coke or two.

This is going to be a really fun month.

Food Weirdness

When I moved to my apartment, I made a resolution to eat healthy. This quickly morphed into 'eat healthy and organic (when affordable)' but at some point turned into becoming super into ethically conscious meat and dairy consumption.



Okay, it must be said, there's no chance in hell this will change because Whole Foods actually added a visible categorization of each type and cut of meat to their website, aka 5 Step Animal Welfare Rating. Up until that moment, I was mostly buying my meat from Sprouts and Whole Foods with the rare exception of when HEB had chicken thighs for 70 cents a pound and what can you do?

Then the categorization appeared on the website, I went to look up what it meant, and now I feel guilty buying below Step Two (enriched environment). prefer Step 4 and up, and can't even deal with looking at random unrated chickens that I assume live a life of horror like that episode about factory chickens on Bones. I even tried to buy chicken on sale like a normal person and flashed on horrific episode details I won't share because Jesus and thought how I was personally contributing toward universal entropy or some shit because I wanted to save a dollar and change a pound, I couldn't tell you, it was weird.

This isn't, by the way, some belated connection between animals and food. I grew up in the country; we raised chickens and eventually ate the chickens, same with pigs (only once, though). I was a member of 4-H. I used to fish with my family and help out with the prep. When my grandfather was alive, they went deer hunting; I personally observed the result hanging in a tree in my grandmother's backyard and even have a picture. One of my father's closest friends was a butcher and my early childhood was stuffed with high quality beef and chicken I had no idea I was supposed to appreciate more because we got a discount; we went to the local meat market that had a small slaughterhouse attached for local farmers.

I do not have any desire to personally participate in the process of how an animal becomes an item for dinner and have no desire to watch any part of it, but I'm not horrified by it and if I had to, could do it with only some vomiting and ewww.

(Exceptions: chickens and related poultry, because of that fucking Bones episode, and rabbits, for reasons obvious and which horrifies me so badly that Central Market's meat area is a minefield due to the occasional appearance of such and so have people check for me.)

I don't feel like a crazy Farmer's Market hipster, though, but that's mostly because I can't afford it. Whole Foods level is sustainable; Farmer's Market level requires a six figure income to make a roast. I soothe my feelings with startlingly priced vegetables and eggs no one is allowed to use without express permission because dear God.

Note: the one thing that keeps surprising me is that none of the Farmer's Markets ever have dairy, even butter, as I am all about overpriced butter with fancy names produced by spoiled cows that probably have a higher level of education than I do and are sometimes British or Irish. Is that a legal thing due to pasteurization requirements?



Semi-relate, I've also come to realize there's been a shift in the Force on how I view rice.



Rice Is My Friend

Because we have so many Indian employees and contractors, all of our parties at work are a smorgasborg of southern (fried chicken, fried fish, potato salad (multiple types), sometimes pasta salad), Mexican and Tex-Mex (tacos and/or fajitas and/or enchiladas with accompanying tortillas in their flour and corn forms, queso, tortilla chips, beans and rice), and Indian ([insert word] curries, samosas, [insert word] tikka, [insert word] masala, tandoori chicken (if someone feels super generous), naan, etc). However, the most common among my Indian coworkers is to bring a rice dish, and I mean, we'll have six to ten different ones every time.

Not gonna lie, for most of my life, rice has been that thing that isn't potatoes under the gravy, in casseroles of various types, and shows up in stir fry or in a box when ordering Chinese or Japanese or Korean or Indian or Thai (continue common places rice is found here) that generally you use as a sort of mat to show off the good part of the meal and soak up the juices. Suffice to say, rice being an actual food you'd want to eat because its rice was restricted to basically rice pudding and beans and rice (Mexican or Cajun or Popeye's dirty rice).

If someone had asked me five years ago, "What kind of rice is it?" my blank expression and "uh white?" would probably tell you all you needed to know about my relationship with rice. And for the most part, this was true of most of my American coworkers.

In our defense, we just didn't know.

One of my coworkers designed a little place card for everyone to use for their dishes with the name and checkboxes for common food restrictions/allergens (common and ones we know people in the office have)/vegetarian/vegan/meat type/dairy/etc to make it easy for everyone, just check off what's applicable. And one of the most common things you see is people taking pictures of those cards whenever someone brings a new rice dish because it got embarrassing to wander around asking "what was that rice called? No, not the lemon rice, the one with brown stuff and carrots--orange bits of something?--and peas I think? It was beside the green one? I wrote down that one, though. Do you know who brought it?"

(And always--always--there was one rice dish no one ever claimed, which I assume now is a gift of the rice god to educate us further. Generally it was the best one. I still fantasize about the greenish-brown one with whole chickpeas and reddish strips of pepper sometimes.)

I didn't consciously realize, however, how much that had influenced me until one terrible day when I was told 'oh, we're having pepper steak and rice' and came over excitedly to be confronted with a bland bowl of ambiguous composition, uncertain texture, and the glaring, blinding whiteness of untrodden snow and after a few seconds bafflement, recognized it to be--apparently--rice. It was weird and mushy and flavorless and individual granules didn't seem to have any sort of shape. Its sole purpose seemed to be providing a nice frame for the pepper steak and it always looked like it should be melting or collapsing but never losing that amphibious semi-firmness like Jello but somehow more upsetting.

Of course, I ate as a normal person and didn't scream every time it touched my lips, but I couldn't help but ponder how I now apparently have not only rice opinions, but have rice standards.

This is like that moment when--with a straight face and no irony--I sincerely asked the guy at the farmer's market selling eggs, "But are your chickens vegetarian or vegan?"


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