So, after the delights of hall food in first year, which ranged from turkey and apricot ‘surprise’, to savoury ‘crumbles’ and curry made from dog, we all looked forward eagerly to catering for ourselves in our second year. No more cold porridge or suspicious looking pieces of chicken; instead, lots of nice nutritional meals, to ensure we lose the extra pounds gained courtesy of the hall policy of putting oil with everything, including peas. We just needed to decide, in our cosy house of six, if we would shop together or all do our own thing. After much deliberation we decided to do it together, share the cooking love around a bit, and hopefully save some money by buying in bulk. We imagined stress free trips to the supermarket where we all agreed on which products to buy and happily filled our trollies with communal bargains. We were very naïve.
A word of warning to any first years who are planning on shopping ‘communally’; assess whether there are any fussy individuals/ wannabe master chefs/ protein obsessed boys/ northern girls who put gravy on their chips, and yours too etc etc, who may possibly throw a spanner into the works. Forewarned is forearmed. You can then be prepared for the stress of the weekly Sainsbury’s ordeal in its entirety. Our issues tend to centre around what we buy rather than what we do with it when it gets back to the kitchen; memorable incidents include a full blown brawl in the dairy isle over free range eggs vs. battery farm eggs (‘we’re going to eat the bloody chicken, that’s worse than it being kept in a small cage’), someone deciding Taste the Difference steak was necessary even if it did cost £15 more than the standard one (‘because it’s just so unbelievably juicy’), an insistence upon Heinz beans because the tin is prettier than Sainsbury’s basics, and a scene like the world is coming to an end if there is no Alpen in stock. The list could go on.
After each trip, we laugh it off, patch up our frayed nerves and if there’s Alpen in the cupboard of a morning then everything is peachy; but at five o’clock on a Tuesday evening after a long day of lectures seasoned with an Oceana hangover, when the world and his wife decide its also time to do the weekly shop and there isn’t space to even turn your trolley around without destroying the cereal bar display, it isn’t quite as amusing.
Then there is the transport issue. Obviously, enough food for seven days for six people isn’t going to make a walk from Castle Marina to the top of Derby Road a pleasurable experience. In our house, we’re lucky enough to have a car at our disposal, so we don’t have to load ourselves up with orange carrier bags and trek through Lenton working up a not-so-sexy sweat. Another word of advice then: drive. But don’t drive the Toyota Aygo if you happen to have one. That car is big enough for two people, three at a push, and maybe the odd shopping bag. Five people, nineteen carrier bags, bumper packs of toilet roll and multi-packs of beer just doesn’t work, unless you dismantle the back seat and have people sitting on each others knees.
Maybe the solution to all this hardship is to shop separately, plan your meals by yourself, and not have to deal with face-offs over the type of bread you want. That would certainly reduce your stress levels even if it did cost you a little more. But quite frankly it would be boring. Even though I have come to dread the Sainsbury’s weekly ordeal amongst the pensioner packed isles, the loading of hundreds of products onto a conveyer belt just to put them all back into a trolley, and all six of us scrambling for our ID for one bottle of wine, I wouldn’t swap our cooking regime for microwave meals for one. the experience gives you a taste perhaps of what it would be like to shop for a family; a family whose members drink excessively and survive at times on Alpen, cheese toasties and carbonara sauce, granted, but a happy family nonetheless. Just don’t blunder into the supermarket thinking it’s all hearts and roses, be prepared for the (odd) argument and remember to get a Nectar card, because then at least you get rewarded for enduring the nightmare of the cleaning products aisle.