Food Substitutions

I bet a lot of us have some variation of this memory: we’re little kids, we’ve finished dinner, and we see one parent whisper something to the other. You can already tell that something exciting is going to happen, and then it does: one parent stands up from the table and announces that they are going to the store to get some… wait for it… ice cream.

I remember getting so excited to see my dad come back to the store with a cardboard-covered brick of butter pecan ice cream. He would carefully unfold the box and scoop out the ice cream into these special sundae cups that we had, the ones that required long-handled spoons to scrape out every drop of ice cream within.

Now, of course, I can buy ice cream whenever I want. Although, more often than not, I don’t — there’s a certain dispirited sadness about the knowledge that if I bring a pint of Ben & Jerry’s into my apartment, I will eat that entire pint of Ben & Jerry’s myself. (And if I bring home a cardboard-covered brick, I am basically promising myself I will eat 12 servings of ice cream within the next seven days.)

I wanted ice cream yesterday, for whatever psychological or hormonal reason. (Honestly, it was probably because I had eaten rice with dinner, and rice always makes me crave sugar afterwards.) I thought about making my own post-dinner grocery run, but the work involved, not to mention the extra cost — I knew I would go to one of the nearby convenience stores instead of walking all the way to the QFC — just seemed like too much. I didn’t want to give a half hour out of my day, plus an extra $5, for ice cream.

I make these kinds of calculations all the time, mostly with food. No, I will not buy wine during this week’s grocery trip. No, I will not eat more than what I’ve served myself because I need to save some leftovers for tomorrow. Yes, I will continue to eat this limp lettuce because I paid for it and it’s what’s for dinner tonight, and if I skip it tonight it’s just going to be that much closer to rotten tomorrow.

Sometimes I look at my meals and ask myself “would I serve this to another person?” I might say yes a little more than half of the time. But it’s good enough for me, eaten during the cold open of whatever TV show I’m streaming in 20-minute chunks, and if I’m still hungry afterwards there’s always a handful of Wheat Thins or almonds to make up the weight.

The thing about wanting to buy ice cream and then not buying ice cream is that you eventually forget that you ever wanted it. It’s not that way with books, for example; if I want to read a book I will keep thinking about it until I either get it at the library or pay to put it on my Kindle. It’s not like that with clothes, either; right now I have my eye on a pair of strawberry-printed leggings that my friend designed, as well as a blue-green-pink dress hanging in a store that I walk by every day, and when there’s enough money in my discretionary spending pile I am going to buy them both.

When I had less money to spend on food, I used to go walking instead of treating myself to some food that I couldn’t afford. Last night, even though I certainly could have afforded a convenience-store $5 pint of ice cream, I played Broken Age on Steam instead. By the time I had figured out the knot puzzle, I wasn’t hungry anymore.

This story is part of our food month series.

Photo credit: peddhapati

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