My Quarantine Life: Week 22

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Simon is taking a nap.

Dear God, Thank You for hot dogs, pineapple and marshmallows. Thank you for the people who literally risked their lives in making my food and the ones who risked their lives in obtaining the food for me. Amen. It sounds pretty simple, doesn’t it? It sounds like something a child would say? In the midst of enduring, widespread and prolonged food shortages, this is my reality this week. Welcome to America, where we are going hungry. 

Someone dropped off hot dogs for me. It was the first time since May I have been able to obtain hot dogs. I almost cried. I received 5 packages of hot dogs. Some of them are in my freezer. We will see how long they last. I have been making my Depression-era “Poor man’s meal” of potatoes and hot dogs almost every day since I received the hot dogs. I am currently defrosting a second package of hot dogs.

I also received several cans of pineapple this week. If you remember from one of my early pandemic posts, I have not had pineapple since February. It has been 6 months since I have been able to obtain pineapple. The last time I was at a grocery store in person was the first week in March. I remember posting how (at the time) the only hole in the grocery store was pineapple. 

Of all the things to hoard, people are hoarding pineapple. I still do not understand why. But for the first time in 6 months, I now have about 4 cans of pineapple. I am going to enjoy them as much as I can. In fact, now that I have pineapple again, I am kind of saving them. I don’t know what I am saving them for. I just know that receiving pineapple right now feels so precious and rare. I have an entire list of ways I want to eat pineapple. 

I have a bag of marshmallows I am hiding. You could call it hoarding. But would you really call it hoarding if I only have one bag of marshmallows? Well, I have a bag of marshmallows that I am saving. I am saving the marshmallows for this fall when the weather finally cools down enough for me to use my fire pit. As soon as the temperatures drop from the current 100 degree weather into more manageable 50 degree weather, I am going to have a fire in my fire pit and roast marshmallows. It will be the closest thing to camping I get to experience this year. 

Depending on how the pandemic goes this fall, I could even theoretically invite a friend over and share the marshmallows. I have been, after all, approved for “outdoor socialization.” This would be as long as we are masked and distanced and no one goes in the house, of course. That “no indoors with people” is the hard part. Dear COVID: You are a buzzkill. This pandemic even makes it difficult for me to share my marshmallows.

I am still grateful I have a bag of marshmallows and cannot wait to toast them outside. I know that marshmallows are a luxury item and not a necessity. No person can survive on marshmallows. I wouldn’t want to. I just like roasting them a few times a year. 

I still say that when this is all over, I want pizza. Of course, the special pizza that accommodates my food allergies is not available right now. That’s because this is America, the land of food shortages. It’s ok. I can dream. I will wish for allergy-friendly pizza for Christmas. If the food factories are still closed by the pandemic, I will wish for allergy-friendly pizza for my birthday. If the food factories are still closed then, well, I just wish to be able to eat an allergy-friendly pizza once more before I die.

Have you obtained any hard to get foods among the food shortages that you have been so happy to have?

Respect Our Coolers

If you see a cooler outside of someone’s house or on the side of the road, please do not steal it.

Those coolers are supply drop off points to help people through this crisis.

Schools are delivering meals to homes and putting food in the coolers for children. For adults under Matilda’s Law, local heroes are checking on us to see what we need and delivering supplies.

It is really hard to ask for help. I am very fortunate in that I have many local heroes who are checking on me. 

I do not want to ask anyone to go to the store for me because I do not want to put that person at risk. However, if a person is already going to a store for themselves, then I will ask for them to add my list of items to their own.

Today I put my cooler out for supply drop off for the very first time. I am scared for the people who are helping me. They are putting themselves out there to keep me safe.

There have been a few reports in my county of some coolers being stolen. I am going to give the benefit of the doubt and assume that the person who “stole” the cooler thought it was on the side of the road as an item free to take. Maybe that wayward soul was mistaken regarding the cooler’s purpose.

I am telling everyone right now that those coolers are there to help children and vulnerable adults. Please do not steal our coolers. If you need help, ask for help. Someone will help you. Do not steal a cooler that is providing help to someone else who is in need. 

If you see a cooler “on the side of the road” or in front of a house, it is not there as a free item. It is there as a supply drop off for that house.

Respect our coolers.

#NYTough

The Fourth R

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The last of the grapes I ate the other day. I am pretty sure those are the last grapes I am going to have for a very long time due to scarcity and price gouging.

We all know the three R’s. We grew up with reading, writing and arithmetic. Today, the three R’s are typically reduce, reuse, recycle. To the three modern R’s, there is a fourth R in our COVID-19 world, ration.

At first blush, there does not seem to be much difference between reduce and ration. They both indicate a decrease of some kind. However, when I sat down and thought about it, I realized that the difference between the two concepts is macro and micro.

When I think of reduce, I think of concepts like minimalism. Minimalism typically involves reducing the total number of items in your home. It also involved purchasing less things. Not only are you bringing less items into your home, but you are paring down items that are in your home so that overall, you have less. This is on the macro scale.

When I think of ration, I think on the micro scale. We take the items that we have and use less of them. We are not reducing – getting rid of the item – because it is an essential item. However, we are using less of that essential item so that it lasts longer.

The reason why I am focusing on rationing during this period of time is that I am trying to reduce my expenses. Mass layoffs are real now, people.

If we can make what we have last longer, then that is less money we have to spend in replenishing essential items. We are also leaving essential items on the shelf for someone else to have in this time of scarcity.

It is not just about toilet paper anymore. People are hoarding all types of things. If you run out of an item, you may not be able to get another one, either in-store or online.

Items that I have had difficulty obtaining include: feminine hygiene products (this is a REAL problem, people – bigger than toilet paper), fresh foods, pet products, and canned goods.

I did not realize how wasteful I am as a person until I started thinking of this idea of rationing. I am trying to reduce my water, gas, and electric bills. I am trying to reduce how often I use things inside my house to delay when I need to purchase more.

Some ways I am trying to be more mindful:

  • I am now actually paying attention to how much laundry soap I am using. Those little lines inside the cap mean something. Laundry soap is one of the “specialty items” I have to get due to my multiple food allergies. Most commercial laundry soap contains almond oil, which means my clothes could send me into anaphylactic shock if I did not have “special” laundry soap. I am trying to be conservative with how much of my “specialty” laundry soap I am using since it is now almost impossible to obtain.
  • To that end, I am trying to wear clothing items more than once before washing. I am also getting more uses out of items such as towels before washing them.
  • Toilet paper. Yes, I am now counting sheets of toilet paper used. Look, toilet paper scarcity was a real problem in my childhood. This situation is not helping.
  • I am using my crock pot more. This week, I have used it every other day. I am literally using all of the fresh food in my house. I am not throwing anything away. If something looks like it is starting to go bad before I can “use” it, I am throwing it in the crock pot with anything I can to make a soup, stew, whatever just so I do not “lose” that item.
  • I made chicken breast with vegetables in my crock pot. It was the best piece of chicken I have ever had in my entire life. I will not bake or grill chicken again. Any time I have chicken in the future, I am going to cook it in the crock pot. Crock pot chicken is amazing.
  • My dish soap is also a “specialty” item due to multiple food allergies. I am very conscious of how much dish soap I am putting in the sink to wash dishes now.
  • I am unplugging everything when I am not actively using it. This includes the microwave and coffee pot. If they are unplugged, they are not drawing power.
  • Since I got my pixie haircut a year or so ago, I use less soap and shampoo. Again, all my soap and shampoo are specialty allergy-friendly items that come from one company in California. I am serious that if this goes on much longer and I cannot get a haircut, I may shave my head.
  • Kitty litter and trash bags. I use trash bags to line my cat pans for easier clean up. I am trying to reduce both the amount of kitty litter I use and the trash bags I am using for liners by scooping their cat pans more often. My trash hauler requires us to use 13-gallon clear trash bags, and those are difficult to obtain right now, both in-person and online. 

Anyone have any other suggestions for rationing or ways to reduce expenses when stuck at home?

Stay safe and well. 

The Great Milk Conspiracy

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People with food allergies, particularly people with multiple food allergies, are food insecure. When you have multiple allergens to avoid, that means you have to buy a lot of specialty items. Specialty items are not only hard to find, but also more expensive. People with multiple food allergies are typically unable to use traditional food pantries unless the food pantry somehow caters to people with food allergies.

I have 5 of the Top 8 most common food allergens. My reactions are severe. My last year of teaching, one of the kids spilled their milk in my lap. It’s a simple spill, right? No big deal.

It was a big deal. The milk soaked through my pants. I absorbed it through my skin. I stopped breathing. I began to have a seizure. By the time I made it to the hospital, my kidneys and liver had started shutting down. I spent several weeks in ICU.

One of my friends recently said that they heard a newscast that food allergies are all in your head. If that was true, I would have wished that away and not spent so much time in the hospital followed by several long months of recovery.

My food allergies are nothing to joke about.

No, I cannot have “just a little bit.” No, I cannot “pick it out.” I cannot have any contact by any means, period. This includes no cross contamination.

I am like this with peanuts, tree nuts, dairy, egg and wheat. Of the five, my worst reactions are to almonds and dairy. No, I do not have celiac disease. I have an actual allergy to wheat, which is something completely different.

I cannot go into a Dunkin Donuts unless I have a death wish. Seriously. If I ever decide to attempt suicide, I am just going to walk into a Dunkin Donuts. A few years ago, Dunkin Donuts added almond milk. It is quite prolific. I cannot even enter into a Dunkin Donuts to use a bathroom at a thruway rest stop. Who knows how thoroughly the surfaces were cleaned? If I come into any contact with almond milk/almond oil, I react.

I cannot have “normal” cow’s milk (or goat milk or sheep milk or any other animal milk). I cannot have almond milk. I cannot have soy milk, because all soy milks have an almond warning on them.

I typically have  rice milk, coconut milk or hemp milk. Coconut is a misnomer. Coconut is not a nut, it is a drupe fruit and a member of the seed family, and is safe for those with nut allergies. Hemp nut is a misnomer. Hemp is actually a seed, and is safe for those with nut allergies.

These specialty milks are quite expensive. I typically get a half gallon (2 litres) at Aldi for $1.69. This week, Aldi was all out of my milk.

I like milk so that I can have cereal in the morning. I eat allergy-friendly cereal, of course. My medication requires me to take it with food. Mornings are a hard time for me to eat because I don’t feel like eating, and cereal is the easiest thing for me to gag down in the morning to take with my medication.

The past few mornings, I had to get creative with breakfast so that I could take my medication. It was not fun.

Today, I went to 6 different stores looking for milk.

At all 6 stores, there were walls and rows of “regular” cows milk. There were walls and rows of almond milk.

Was there rice milk or hemp milk?

Nope.

It was only at the 7th store that I found what I needed. Now, keep in mind, I typically pay $1.69 for a half gallon (2 litres). Today, at the 7th store, when I found what I needed, I paid $4.69 for 1 litre.

Now, that is quite expensive.

If I have to do this on a regular basis, then that means that half of my monthly food budget is going to be allotted just to milk.

This is partially why people with multiple food allergies are food insecure.

I am one of the privileged ones. I have a vehicle, so I was able to drive to 7 different stores trying to find what I needed. Imagine if you have to ride the bus, take a cab, ride a bike or walk to a store. What would someone in my situation do then?

Food is extremely challenging to find when you have multiple food allergies. This is why I always tell everyone I am not picky about what I eat. I will literally eat anything that won’t kill me. With so many food allergies and reactions so severe, I cannot afford to be picky or to partake in some sort of alternative diet such as vegetarian, vegan, keto, etc.

The rules are simple. Will this kill me if I eat it? No? Then eat it. If it will kill me if I eat it, then don’t touch it. I have actually not had a reaction to something I have eaten in almost 15 years. The 10+ reactions I have had in the past 15 years have all come from touch, or skin absorption.

If I did not have food allergies, then it would be very easy to live on a $30 per week grocery budget. I’d be having macaroni and cheese, sandwiches of all kinds, pizza, ice cream, you name it. I look at grocery store ads and fantasize about all the things I would love to eat if I did not have food allergies.

With multiple food allergies, $30 per week does not go far. I just spent $14.07 on “milk” for the week, which was about ¾ of a gallon. If I want a loaf of bread, it is $10.79. Allergy-friendly bread loaves are smaller than regular loaves of bread. I typically get 3 or 4 sandwiches out of an allergy friendly loaf of bread.

I have to pre-plan my days and be sure to pack enough food for where ever I may be. I cannot go out to eat – hardly anywhere in this area. It’s not like I can just pick up food on the fly or go to a convenience store and get a snickers bar if I’m hungry.

Maybe for my last meal. If I was on death row, I have a milkshake and macaroni and cheese on the list for my last meal, maybe I should add a snickers bar to that.

The great milk conspiracy comes from the fact that I went into 6 stores and found walls of regular milk and almond milk, but no milk for me. Do stores and manufacturers just not think about all the people who are allergic to both dairy and almonds? I did not even see soy milk at some of these places, not that I can have that either.

What is with this trend in almond milk? It is my worst nightmare. This is why I wear a warning label like a Gremlin.

You want to see how fast I can run, whip out a carton of almond milk. I’ll be gone in a flash. I don’t have a death wish today. No thank you.

Maybe I should just give up on specialty items. I mean, I’m sure if I was on food stamps that people would judge me for checking out with a 1 litre carton of hemp milk for $4.69 when I could get a half gallon of regular milk for $1.29.

More importantly, when did milk become a specialty item?

The dairy industry has such a hold on our food system that they are advocating for alternative milks to be called something different. The dairy industry argues that something like rice milk isn’t real milk and should not be called milk.

There are times when I think “I don’t care what you call it as long as I can put it in my cereal and it doesn’t kill me.”

There are other times when I think “Why is my milk less than your milk? I should have access to milk too, whatever form that may take.”

Who would have ever guessed that trying to buy milk would create such drama?

This is the first time I have had this experience with trying to find milk. I do have this experience with allergy friendly pasta and allergy friendly flour on a regular basis. Whenever I do find allergy friendly pasta or allergy friendly flour, I buy them in bulk. I consider them treats because they are so expensive and so hard to find.

Part of me thinks that things like milk, bread, pasta and flour should not have to be considered treats. They should not be hard to find. They should not be expensive. Those items should be staples. I should not have to drive to 7 stores to find what I need. Don’t most people go to 1 or 2 grocery stores? Why do I have to go to multiple stores looking for “specialty” items?

Maybe my thinking is all out of whack. But when you have a large industry like the dairy industry saying you can’t call rice milk “milk” because it doesn’t come from a cow, and it takes me 7 stores to find something to put on my cereal in the morning, we have a problem.

For now, the Great Milk Conspiracy can take a rest. I have enough hemp milk for my cereal for the rest of the week. I can tell you right now, that breakfast tomorrow morning is going to be amazing. I may have completely blown my food budget, but I can have cereal again. At least, until the milk runs out.