90,000 Miles to Me
taos ski valley new mexico

3,954 Miles • Food: A Steep Learning Curve

This is a backdated post from July 29th, 2017

Two gorgeous weeks in Taos Ski Valley, NM, testing out my new van living arrangements. Carson National Forest is reminiscent of a Bavarian forest, there is a river flowing nearby with fresh snow melt from a couple thousand feet up the mountain, the air is clean and fresh (and thin) and I am in heaven.

boulder amidst trees and foliage

I parked in the ski valley village parking lot, which is pretty much just a large gravel lot at the base of the hiking trails, and security doesn’t seem to care. There are signs not to leave vehicles for more than 14 days, and although I asked at the tourist info booth to be sure and they said it was fine, I still feel a bit nervous, expecting some security guard to question me about what I am doing here for so long, but I haven’t had so much as a look askance. In fact, the few people who have noticed me “camping” and come up to me were interested, asking questions about my sun oven—does it really work?—no, I just put it out for show—or how long I’ve lived in the van—about a week—or similar questions.

river in Taos Ski Valley I’ve refilled my water jugs from this river a few times, only slipping once, but I didn’t fall in! My 3-gallon LifeStraw filter bag is working well. The water tastes great.

My battery system was giving me problems, however, and I had to send it back to the manufacturer (they paid for FedEx shipping, great customer service) which means that my fridge doesn’t have anything to plug in to. Which means it is a glorified ice cooler, and no one, I mean no one in the village sells ice. I asked all over. I got a bag full from a local restaurant and one from a helpful gentleman in a hotel kitchen, and several from the local cafeteria-style eatery’s kitchen. The new battery will be mailed back soon, I hope.

purple and white flower

I’m also getting used to my new food situation. Which is this. At home, I often put off going grocery shopping long after the point when I really needed to, and made due with various staples that were always in the pantry or the freezer, even if I didn’t care for the meals, because I didn’t care for shopping even more.

I have a lot of sensory issues and stores are an overwhelming sensory experience for me—all those fluorescent lights, music blaring, thousands of products with labels vying for attention, smells of various cooked foods and produce and counters full of meats, people carrying on conversations and children fussing, beeps and bloops from registers, announcements over the intercom, perfumes from cleaning products, that squeaky wheel on someone’s cart, and there isn’t just one toothpaste, there are dozens, and every item on my list means multiple choices, comparing products or searching to find the one I usually get, and things are always getting moved around, and I can’t block out any of this and it doesn’t fade into the background either, it is all blaring at me at full volume all the time, and every one of these beeps and smells and choices gets me that much closer to putting down my basket and bolting out of the store shaking from overwhelm.

Sorry, this wasn’t supposed to be about my shopping issues, but maybe it will be helpful in getting a feel for why some autistic children can be a pain in the rear to take to the store. My mother avoided it whenever possible.

Anyway, my point is that I used to put off going to the store as long as possible, and there was “backup food” to let me get away with this. Well, that’s not the case anymore. I have a little in the way of pantry foods, but they are not what you might call readily accessible for eating. There are jars of rice and flour and sugar. The lentils have to soak for hours and the pasta has to wait till tomorrow when the sun comes back up to be able to cook. Preplanning en force is going to be a major part of my life, I can tell. But even counting up all the foods I have, even in the fridge, there just isn’t all that much. I mean, it’s a tiny kitchen.

So I don’t have much room for food that I don’t have a specific plan for eating in the very near future.

Pantry shelves in the van
My entire pantry space is these shelves. The fridge is shown on the bottom left. Note: things have been significantly rearranged since. Several times.

Which brings me to my actual dilemma. I’m out here for two plus weeks with the closest source of replacement groceries a half hour drive one way down windy roads and costing some of my limited savings that I want to stretch for as long as possible. I made that trip once, but don’t care to repeat it. And I am not buying restaurant food. I can live for days off of the groceries I can buy for what one meal costs. Not even joking.

What this means for me right now:

One. I have known hunger. Not famine or refugee or visible-ribcage kind of hunger. Or skipping a meal because I got caught up in something so I’m hungry kind of hunger. But the kind where I don’t have enough food for the moment and don’t have a way of getting more immediately so I am hungry kind of hunger. The kind where I start noticing food everywhere and looking for it and nip an unopened banana from the trash bin at the cafeteria that is giving me free ice kind of hunger. The kind where I both under- and over-cooked the rice in the same pan and still ate it for three meals because there was nothing else kind of hunger.

Two. I am getting fierce about meal planning. Since I don’t have space for extra, I need to know exactly what to buy to make actual meals without missing any key ingredients. I am glad I took a couple cookbooks with me, and am using them more than I ever have in my life.

Three. I need an option for easy meals when I miss the planning-ahead time needed for sun cooking or soaking beans, or for when the sun is hiding for a few days in a row. Leftovers are great, but, again, there is only so much room for leftovers. And I’m sick of PB & J. And out of bread.

A note about the hunger. I don’t mean to be melodramatic; my distance from a grocery store is a choice and my determination not to buy prepared food is an artificial restraint. I would go to a restaurant with a credit card long before I starved; I’m not being self-destructive. But within the bounds of these two choices, I have stumbled into a learning experience in empathy. Though finances have sometimes been tight, I have never really not had plenty, and missing the occasional meal doesn’t count because there was no expectation that I wouldn’t get more food soon.

I’ve heard the statistics and the stories all my life. Billions of people around the world, including right here in this ultra-wealthy country, are hungry on a regular basis and have to make hard choices between basic necessities: heat in winter or food, soap or food, sending their children to school or food. For once, I am getting a very small taste of that, not a statistic or a story, and it is broadening my horizons.

The other day I was saying the Lord’s Prayer and caught my breath at “give us this day our daily bread.” For perhaps the first time, it really felt like a prayer to me. I hadn’t even realized that, until now, it wasn’t. Not really. I guess I interpreted it alternately as an expression of gratitude or a reminder that I am not the center of the universe and it is God who provides, but always, in some way, and to varying extents at different times in my life, I took it as a metaphor. Now here I am, actually, literally, with all my heart asking for food. Not a metaphor. Real bread on a day to day basis. And I am thankful for this lesson. For Thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory. Amen.


2 thoughts on “3,954 Miles • Food: A Steep Learning Curve

  1. when we are truly “on our own ” is when we really get it. the message that our moms have been trying to tell us all our lives. kudos to you. I, for one will be following your journey and praying for you. hope to see you in california, aunt georgetta

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