06/25/2013 05:39 am ET Updated Aug 24, 2013

Canned Tomatoes And Other Obsessions

The pantry in any house is a trove of psychological data. Not as private as a medicine cabinet, the food pantry in many kitchens reveals some surprisingly intimate information.

My pantry, which is just a closet inside the back door, offers a kaleidoscope view of fleeting obsessions -- most of which I've long forgotten or consciously abandoned.

I have a case of low sodium, low fat, low cholesterol Italian Wedding Soup with only one can missing and a case of Thai noodles that, close scrutiny revealed, have more fat per serving than a chocolate milkshake with a whipped cream garnish. Worse, the sauce gave off a potent fish odor that caused my stomach to roil and, mysteriously, lured two feral cats into the yard.

The remnants of various cooking experiments are in evidence: coconut milk, cardamom, peri peri, seaweed sheets, tahini paste and a bag salty dried plums called Li Hing Mui that burns your nostrils when exposed to air. I'm saving them all.

A thirty-pack of protein bars is intact minus two packets. My husband tasted one ("like pressed peat moss" he reported, wiping his tongue clean with a napkin) and the other is being used as a door stop. The four-pack of peanut butter is now a three pack, but wait! What's that in the back? Another four-pack of peanut butter. I've got rice cakes and wheat crackers and gluten free crackers and bread sticks. I have a double-barrel of pretzel nubs in containers so large they could be beer kegs; we've started to use the nubs as poker chips and as replacement figures for games like Risk and checkers. We also throw nubs at the deer who graze too close to the house at dusk.

There are many boxes of whole wheat pasta which, I was told, is better for you than regular pasta only it tastes like cardboard. I'm also storing, for some reason, a cool ton of rice: wild rice, brown rice, risotto, rice pilaf, Spanish rice, Arroz Rojo, basmati rice and, for variety, quinoa. If necessary, we can survive for more than a year on rice alone.

The most mysterious collection in my pantry is canned tomatoes. Diced tomatoes, crushed tomatoes, whole tomatoes, stewed tomatoes and tomato purees -- I've got dozens of each in every brand and combination. Why am I hoarding cans and cans of tomatoes? Is it possible that there will be a shortage of canned tomatoes in the future? Will I find myself, one day, facing a bowl of naked pasta with no cans to save me? (This one is equally ridiculous given the plethora of spaghetti sauces loitering near, behind and next to the hoards of canned tomatoes.) I supposed I could be spontaneously overcome with an uncontrollable mania of sauce-making that demands multiple cans of variably shaped tomatoes, but that hasn't happened so far. And yet, every time I go to the store, I buy more canned tomatoes.

Last night, I asked some friends about their own buying habits. "What do you buy to excess?" I posed the question.

Without pause, the man replied: "Deodorant. I have six cans of deodorant in my bathroom at any given time. "And," he acknowledged, "I don't even sweat. "

"Flour," another answered. "White flour. Barley flour. Rye, millet, coconut and almond flour. You name it, I've got a bag of it." She shared how a small infestation of flour-loving insects forced her to destroy her flour collection one long hot summer, but she replaced it quickly enough. "I bought air-tight storage bins just for the bags of flour," she said.

Her husband raised his martini glass. "I'm going to use some of the expensive flour to grout the tub," he nodded at his own genius.

"I must live in fear of running out of coffee," a woman said. "You can't get an ice cube from my freezer without moving aside the bags of coffee. You'd think I was assigned with keeping an army awake."

Shaving cream. Spray Starch (yes, they still make that). Olives. Oatmeal. And those are just the ones people admit to. Sometimes I long for a hand-to-mouth existence but then I realize that's absurd. What if my kids come home with three friends apiece, and they're all hungry? Also, you never know when you'll be consumed with an urge to make three-bean chili.

My sister just called. She's on the way home from Costco with "supplies."

At least I'm not alone.

Earlier on Huff/Post50:

Is it cheating to bring something store-bought to a holiday potluck?