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It’s Time to Empty Those Cabinets…and Don’t Forget the Fridge! (And Your Desk Drawer at Work…or Wherever Else You Stash Food!)

There are few instances in life where I actually agree with the old adage “Out of sight, out of mind”…but food is one of them. Sure, from time to time there will be moments when you crave something out of the blue: a crisp fall morning with crunching leaves will leave you dreaming of a pumpkin spice latte or a hot summer day may find you imagining some sweet corn…but more often than not I promise you, if you don’t see have the food around, you really won’t miss it. Well, most foods anyway.
For that reason, as hard as it may be, one of the first things you should do when you get home from the doctor (or receive the phone call or however it is that you learned the news) is empty out those cabinets. And by that I mean EMPTY. Pull every single thing out and put it on the counter (now if you’re anything like me, you’ll find things with expiration dates that will make you cringe anyway…so really this is a good idea for anyone to do on occasion). Then go through each item and make 3 piles: 1) Food that is DEFINITELY safe   2) Food that is DEFINITELY NOT safe and 3) Food that I am not quite sure (Most likely this will be your biggest pile). Now I will give you fair warning: this is the time in the acceptance process where I usually shed my tears. You’ll learn things you never knew: your favorite sausages may contain gluten, your favorite crackers may contain milk, your favorite pretzels may have soy, and pretty much your favorite everything will have corn in there somewhere. Ok not everything…but a lot 🙂
Also, NOTE: depending on the severity of your allergy/intolerance, you can’t just read the ingredient list! You also have to read that fine print underneath…you know those sneaky words “PROCESSED ON SHARED EQUIPMENT WITH WHEAT, MILK,/MADE IN THE SAME FACILITY AS…” etc. that you once overlooked as unnecessary words added to the packaging. Trust me, these have become very important to your life. I myself have been burned a few times, particularly in my early gluten-free days. “Oooh…black beans! Still safe, I’ll make myself a delicious black bean burger for dinner.” Delicious, yes. Until an hour later when I could barely walk from my room to the kitchen to investigate. I pulled the can out of the recycle bin: sure enough, “PROCESSED ON EQUIPMENT SHARED WITH WHEAT”. Some people are lucky enough that this level of potential cross-contamination won’t affect them…but unless you know for sure, I say err on the side of caution. Nothing derails your “First Day of the Rest of Your Life mentality” like spending a few days on the couch. Granted, we will all inevitably mess up again…but on the bright side, any time I do get sick, it reminds me just how glad I am that I don’t eat any of those things anymore. Silver lining.

All right, now back to your 3 piles:
1)    Yep, Pile 1 goes right back in the cabinet. BUT WAIT!! Do NOT put anything back on those shelves until you’ve wiped them clean with heavy duty wipes or cleaning spray. Now again, how often does anyone do this so it’s a good idea in general, but moreso because you’ll be surprised how many crumbs and little granules of different flours accumulate on your shelves just waiting to contaminate your newly “Insert Your Name”-safe cabinet!
2)    Pile 2: Here comes decision time. Now if you’re anything like me the first time this happened, I just wanted it all in the trash. I found some small sense of catharsis in throwing every potentially dangerous item into the trash can and carrying it all to the curb come Thursday morning. If that’s what you need to move to the next phase of your healing process, I am by no means here to judge. However, I would like to propose 2 other options: both of which I’ve now done with later cabinet cleanings. One is obvious: put everything in a box and bring it into work, school, a friend’s house…anywhere that you know people who might be able to use what you’re giving away. You’d be surprised how excited people get over the gift of cooking spray or a bag of Doritos. If you know someone with a particular love for something in your box, save it for them. I know it might be hard in the midst of your own sadness to want happiness for someone else, but I promise you it will make your day when you make theirs! And the other option: box everything up and bring it to a food bank, soup kitchen, homeless shelter, etc. If visiting one of those doesn’t make you feel better about the amount of food left on our shelves at home, then nothing will.  One kind of fun idea (if you live in a city): I took all my soy-infested food this spring and kept it in a shoebox in the front seat of my car. Anytime I was stopped at a traffic light and approached by a homeless person, I offered them their choice of treats from my box. Though a few were of course less than grateful, most were beyond thrilled. Not only do they get something to eat, but they also get to do something they rarely do: make a choice. Everyone wins!
3)    Pile 3: This one will take you awhile. The internet is the best place to turn…but make sure to use reliable sites (i.e. the manufacturer or a magazine…not those message boards where people share what works or doesn’t work for them). When in doubt, call the manufacturer yourself. It’s time-consuming…but well worth it. And when really in doubt, just throw it out. Again, always best to err on the side of caution. And don’t feel like you need to conquer all of Pile 3 in one day. Just DON’T put anything back in the cabinet until you know it’s safe.
Now: sit back and take a look at your new, clean, healthy cabinets. Yes, I know they’re probably looking a little sparse and you’re thinking, “How in the world am I going to make a meal out of the random assortment of things left in here??” Fear not: you’ll figure it out. Partially because you’re about to become a super-creative chef…but also because you’re going to head out to the store, research in hand, and come home to fill all those empty spaces with delicious, new healthy-for-you foods! But that’s a job for another day 🙂                                                                   

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