The Missing Food
In my early college days – my then-husband was also in college, and we had a small child – I had, as you might imagine, very little money. So we stocked up on things that stored well, like tomato sauce (for the endless vats of spaghetti we made) and boxes of macaroni and cheese. We bought countless potatoes that sat in a drawer in the fridge.
After a while, I began to feel that food was missing. Nothing really obvious, just that I thought I had bought twenty boxes of macaroni, but after using four of them, I only had ten left. I would buy twelve cans of tomato sauce, and use three, and have five left. Sometimes the bin of potatoes looked a lot emptier than I thought it should be.
At first I thought, “Well, I don’t exactly count how much I’m putting in the shopping cart! It’s a thirty-cent box of macaroni!” I didn’t always notice how many were in the cupboard in the first place, that I was adding to with newer purchases. Not to mention that a haphazard school-work schedule meant that we each ate alone some days, and who knew what the other one had eaten? Perhaps he had devoured an entire box of mac-n-cheese by himself; perhaps he had made sauce for his lunch. It wasn’t creepy – it was just frustrating to need more groceries than I had anticipated, because the budget was fairly tight.
Eventually, though, I knew there had been more food in the cupboard in the morning than there was in the afternoon – and no one had been home except me. But I thought it must be someone sneaking into my apartment (although the door was usually locked), someone who needed food and couldn’t pay for it. I decided I was fortunate to have enough money not to count every little item I put in my shopping cart, that I was fortunate to think thirty cents was too little an amount to worry about – because for some people, it’s a lot of money. Some people don’t get enough to eat, even in the world of macaroni and cheese and tomato sauce on spaghetti. Some people would – well, steal – for what I have. I decided that if someone needed food that badly, then I was happy enough to let them have it … but I wished whoever it was would not sneak in and out of my house. That was a little disturbing, and I wasn’t quite sure how they were doing it, frankly.
Actually, it was more than a little disturbing, and after some weeks of assuming some unknown person was entering and leaving my apartment without a trace – except for the vanishing foodstuffs – I realized that it just wasn’t possible. The apartment was too small for me never to notice such a thing. So I came back to the unsettling question: where was this food going? – because it was more obvious than ever that I was buying a lot more than I was keeping.
I went to the store and bought seven boxes of macaroni and ten little cans of tomato sauce and a few other things. I brought them home, and stood in my preposterously small kitchen. I opened the cupboard, where there were two boxes of macaroni and four cans of tomato sauce, and I carefully put away what I had purchased. I counted the totals – twice: nine macaronis, fourteen sauces. I shut the cupboard door. I stood and looked at the cupboard door for a few seconds. I had a strange feeling in my stomach. I reached out and opened the cupboard door.
Six macaroni boxes. Nine cans of tomato sauce.
I shut the cupboard door. I walked away. I never bothered to count anything again.
Is it some sort of cosmic accounting? – adjusting the amount of food people are allowed to own and redistributing it to those less fortunate? Is it some invisible ghost-rodent? I don’t know, but I’ve never bothered to keep track of how much food I have since that day … and what I don’t know won’t freak me out.