The guilty satisfaction of empty things


By things I mean jars, bottles, packets, tins ... all the things containing all the consumables you use in your lifetime. By satisfaction I mean the satisfied feeling that the jar, or whatever it is, is now empty and you can either fill it up with new stuff, or buy a new one, having thrown the old one away. Guilty - well that's probably obvious.


Here is an almost empty jar of dried apricots in my pantry. I have already bought the reserve new packet of dried apricots to fill it up again. Which will leave me with an empty packet - which at least can now be recycled, so it's not completely wasted. I even feel satisfied when my plastic bag of plastic bags is full and I can take it to the supermarket for recycling. Virtuous satisfaction that I am doing the right thing. Although, I always wonder what really happens to them. And maybe I should have paid more and bought them loose - as you can - in the same supermarket.


The main problem with the apricots is that I don't use dried apricots very much, I just like to have them for the grandchildren when they come to our house. They like to snack on them. I occasionally cook with them but not very often. But dried apricots have a relatively short shelf-life if you want to eat them at their best. They don't go off, but they don't taste as good.


After yesterday's cook-up for our granddaughter's birthday party I was left with a lot of empty plastic packets and an empty bottle of oil - some for the recycle bin, some for the soft plastics bag, vegetable peelings, and so on for the compost and yes - and here's the guilt - a sense of satisfaction at seeing all those empty things waiting for disposal.


That's dreadful isn't it? Because it shows how much unnecessary packaging we put up with - small plastic containers for herbs being the standout here. David actually commented on it and I replied that I supposed the plastic meant a longer shelf life. Although, given that these were bought from the supermarket which has a very high turnover on herbs, you wouldn't have thought that this was an issue. Why can't they just be made into bunches with rubber bands or string and sold like that - as in the market? Normally I would have most of those herbs in my garden, but winter lingers and they are all - except for the rosemary - in hibernation, and so I have to resort to plastic packaging. Or wait for the Sunday Farmer's market, less choice and higher prices. Or drive my car - using petrol and creating pollution - into the city to the Queen Vic Market - also possibly encountering a high risk of COVID. You can't win.


And I really can't explain the pleasurable feeling that creating empty packets gives. Where does it come from?


I had two theories. With regard to yesterday's cook-up it meant that I had had a lot of fun, and satisfaction in making a lot of samosas - very successfully, and preparing the batter for the bhajias. My task had been completed successfully. Mission accomplished. Moreover I had used up things that might otherwise have gone off. The empty packets were proof. Mind you I had had to buy some chickpea and rice flour and fearing that the packets would be too small I bought extra. So now I have spare ones.


The second was related to the thing we have all experienced - being taught to finish everything on the plate, because of all the poor starving children in Africa. So when the plate was finished it was a sense of achievement, and so, I reasoned, this was translated later in life into a feeling of having done the right thing by finishing the jar, or the packet or the tin. Virtue. How it affected the poor children in Africa was not thought out back then.


And here is a slight digression on another way this early childhood training gets translated later in life - overeating. Last night's party was large - there were fourteen of us, and therefore our hosts, like all of us who host events such as this, were probably fearful of not having enough food and overcatered. There were four different curries, a pile of flatbread, and rice for the mains and for dessert - two cakes, not to mention my preliminary samosas and bhajias. Yesterday's selection was complicated by the fact that mum, dad, and the two daughters had each cooked a separate curry. So not only did we all want to try every dish because they were all delicious but also because we didn't want to hurt anyone's feelings. And yes they were all delicious, and yes I ate too much, and drank a little too much as well because there were special wines - one brought more or less for me. So this morning I did indeed feel a little bit poorly. I am fasting today! The photos that decorate the insides of the front and back covers of Ixta Belfrage's book Mezcla show the same sort of thing. Even everything of hers did not get eaten.

And of course this happens with almost every kind of fast food that you can buy - the portions are nearly always too large. But that's something for another day.


When I started this post I hoped to find somebody else's words of wisdom on the subject of getting satisfaction out of finishing things. I mean I'm sure it's not just me, and David admits to the same feeling. But in spite of trying very many different search strategies I could find nothing, until eventually I found some research on the same thing but related to beauty products. Same idea though. I also get the same satisfaction from finishing a bottle of shampoo, or perfume, or washing-up liquid.


It seems we fall into two groups. Overbuyers (that's me) and underbuyers.


"Under-buyers struggle with spending money. They long for a curated collection of things. They will always buy as little as possible, ... they get true satisfaction from using things up thoroughly. Over-buyers are the opposite. They appreciate choice and abundance. Running out of things causes them stress and makes them feel impoverished. They love to buy anticipatorily,” Gretchen Ruben


Well that's me - I have a stocked pantry and, I confess, in addition, two drawers filled with supplies in case I run out. COVID lockdown had no terrors for me in the respect of running out of food. I reckoned I could probably survive for at least a month or two. Well fresh fruit and vegetables might have been a problem, but I could have substituted.


The researchers have other things to say:


"The antidote to feeling anxious is feeling in control. Finishing things, completing things, checking the box, all that makes us feel much more in control." Kit Yarrow - Consumer psychologist


Which I guess is the underbuers. And here's another digression, related to the underbuyers of this world. On one of my abortive searches I came across a whole lot of sites suggesting what to do with jars, bottles etc, that had unremovable dregs - honey was a favourite. Fundamentally the idea was to put liquid things in with them which would dissolve or at least incorporate the dregs and shake them all together.


On the left is one of the more tempting of the ideas - fill an almost empty peanut butter jar with ice-cream and eat - although that would be rather a lot of ice-cream. Also applicable to nutella, jam and honey this one. Salad dressings made from adding things to mustard, honey, mayonnaise, yoghurt were another suggestion - or the same principle but with slightly different ingredients for marinades. Others suggested making tea in an almost empty jar of jam - not sure about that one; adding alcohol to the jam and adding that to a cocktail, adding alcohol to leftover vanilla extract - or as one guy said - just add oil to anything. So that was for those who have to extract every last little drop. All pretty good ideas I have to say and I will act on some of them.


Then there's this theory:


“We tend to get bored more easily with products and want more innovation. Finishing something today is actually harder than it's ever been before. Getting through something — there's a sense of moral good being accomplished.” Kit Yarrow - Consumer psychologist


For me I think this one applies to all those things that you bought for one recipe, or that you thought you should try and haven't used since. Or the things that were gifted and kept for a special occasion that never came. Again COVID came to the rescue here. Well at least a little bit. For one thing I did in lockdown was to decide that now was the time to use all that special olive oil and so I have been using various bottles for making my salad dressings. I save the bulk tins for everyday cooking. This is my last special bottle - from Mount Zero. It is very good and there is only a little left, as you can see. But being an overbuyer, and having overcome the hoarding of special things, I vow to go out and buy something else just as special when this one is finished. Perhaps a trip out to the Shaws Road winery where they sell a gorgeous olive oil, whose name escapes me at the moment. I have yet to finish my rather wonderful jar of gochujang though.


However, every almost finished jar has its own attached emotion. I had a look through my pantry and fridge and on my shelves and found a few things that inspire different feelings. Let me explain.


Not many green olives left in this jar. This is a pretty ordinary everyday emotion. When should I buy the reserve jar, because olives are one of those things it's good to have on hand? And I'm looking forward to the satisfaction of finishing, it removing the label, and washing it, so that it can be stored ready for the next batch of jam, or chutney or marmalade. And if I was very good I could even use that pickling liquid to pickle something else, or marinade a chicken for roasting. I read somewhere that it tenderises the chicken. This jar will give me a sense of virtue because it won't even be put in the recycling bin, but will become the storage for something else, besides tasting something delicious made with the remaining olives.


The remains of a plastic container/grinder of what was chilli salt. It looked pretty, and I thought it would be a way of getting chilli into my food. Which it was but there wasn't much chilli. Indeed this might be all there was, although looking at what remains one is a bit hard-pressed to know what exactly remains in the jar. So what to do? It won't grind these bits, so the most virtuous thing would be to somehow prize off the top, remove the leavings and either use them if I can identify them, or throw them away in the compost. Then recycle the plastic in the recycle bin. I suspect it will be difficult to get the top off so I think this one will be satisfying in that I will get rid of it, but also very guilty in that it is plastic and I really didn't need this product in the first place. And it looks as if it was shonky anyway. No virtue with this one. And will I actually get rid of it anyway? It's been sitting in my cupboard for ages waiting for me to decide what to do with it.

Here is the last of a big batch of dukkah that I made ages ago. I must use it to coat something with before frying, grilling or baking, or perhaps in a stuffing. It's lovely stuff, but probably losing much of its initial flavour. Maybe writing this post will make me do something. Salmon? The jar will be reused.

Years ago now I learnt how to make a kind of tandoori chicken from Charmaine Solomon. It's not truly authentic of course, which is why I say 'kind of', but it is delicious, and so I have always had a jar of the spice mix that she concocted, ready to make the next tandoori chicken - well tandoori anything. There is only a tiny bit left - not enough and so I shall have to make some more, which leaves me with a feeling of pressure, although it takes no time at all to make the mix - I don't think there is even any grinding involved - well if you have garam masala to hand. Which I do. Maybe I should convert that pressure into delighted anticipation of a meal of tandoori chicken. We haven't had it for a while.


I'm sure I have many more items about to be finished and thrown away - my tin of extra virgin olive oil is almost empty I think for starters. And it will give me that guiltily satisfied feeling as I put the empty tin in the recycling bin. I do try to do the right thing with respect to recycling, and using up every last little bit, but I am very guilty of over consumerism. I admit. And here's another thought from one of those Reddit commenters with extraordinary noms de plume:


"When I take the last piece from a chocolate-macademia-nut-cluster jar or the last piece of Sander's chocolate caramels, I pause as I realize how many calories were once in those jars." imakesawdust/Reddit


I think that one applies more to David than to me though.


This has been a bit of a frustrating post to write. My computer was doing its weekly scan this morning which slowed everything down to an unusable crawl, and I really couldn't find pictures or words to expand upon my own limited thoughts. They are probably still out there waiting to be found. But I did find this little bit of wisdom - though with no attribution:


"done is better than perfect."


The birthday party was pretty perfect though. The birthday girl made that cake.


Happy birthday Zoe. Teenage at last.

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