Because I was on a trip with Dylan on Saturday I didn’t manage to shop for food. Consequently, there is nothing much to eat in the house. I don’t mind this but it would have been an unthinkable position to be in while Dylan lived at home.
Empty kitchen cupboards make Dylan anxious. Food is important to Dylan but the supply of it is not something he has control of. At some level, I suspect, Dylan is aware of this vulnerability; he knows that he is dependent on others to shop for food and prepare meals. So while I may not be concerned about an empty fridge, it is perfectly understandable that Dylan might be agitated; he has no idea, after all, if or when I plan to shop for food.
In order to reassure Dylan, and avoid any anxiety, I maintained a routine approach to shopping while Dylan lived with me. For many years this involved a weekly visit to a supermarket. This was not the way I would have chosen to shop but it was the best way of managing with Dylan. A weekly supermarket trip meant that everything was under one roof which is important for Dylan who finds shopping at multiple locations difficult. Dylan was able to memorise the aisles in the store, which helped him to feel comfortable, and I was able to approach our weekly visit as an opportunity for learning, encouraging Dylan to make choices and follow simple instructions. On balance the positives outweighed the challenges and frustrations.
When I decided to remove sugar from Dylan’s diet a year ago, however, our Saturday trips to the supermarket became impossible. Dylan didn’t understand why he couldn’t put products which he was accustomed to buying into the trolley. Shopping became a source of immense frustration for Dylan; a weekly chore that we had taken some satisfaction in doing together was now causing us both stress and anxiety. There was nothing for it, I realised, but to shop online.
I am aware that the online shopping option is invaluable for some members of the community; those who are vulnerable or geographically isolated, in particular, can benefit enormously from such a service. I hated it however. Not only did the arrival of our online deliveries puzzle Dylan, I was frequently annoyed by the substitutions and short dates which created waste or involved me in time-consuming returns and complaints. Why someone would imagine that a customer who ordered a packet of schnitzels (for Dylan) would be happy with sweetcorn grills instead (Dylan won’t touch sweetcorn) or that a customer who ordered Ethiopian coffee beans (for me) would be happy with decaffeinated coffee was beyond me.
The first thing I changed after Dylan moved to residential care was my approach to shopping. With Dylan visiting only at weekends, I now keep just a few of his staples in the house; my cupboards and fridge are gloriously light and my freezer stands empty and unused. These days I shop at small, independent shops a half mile away. This is a practice I love; not just the food, but the process of shopping, which is entirely different. Now, on a Saturday morning, I have conversations with people in the community; I buy local produce where possible; I spend less; I waste less; it doesn’t take me as long to shop; and I eat more healthily.
I don’t mean to suggest by this that while Dylan was living with me I ate unhealthily or too much. I didn’t. But living alongside someone whose habits are very different has an impact and it affected the way I shopped for and stored food, and when and how I prepared and ate meals. Tonight, because I didn’t manage to shop last Saturday, I called at a supermarket on my way home from work. I didn’t miss supermarkets one bit, I thought to myself while standing in line; in fact I would go so far as to say that one of the things I’ve appreciated most since Dylan moved into care are my empty kitchen cupboards.