MANNO: Cut back and be a creative Christmas consumer

Christmas in this country scares the pants off of me. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve become more and more disillusioned by the consumer culture of Christmas – when you’re a kid, this is some kind of heresy that stands between you and a Lite Brite, but as you get older, you start to realize how sick it becomes. To see people camped outside of Best Buy on Tuesday to get a Black Friday HDTV that will remain on sale for the next six weeks is one of the few telltale signs that some of us are idiots.

Christmas generally gets a bad rapport from me because of this, but the consumerism isn’t really the problem. It’s the nature behind it. The question is: why can’t we learn to do without?

This thinking has mostly developed in my head over the past year. For example, I think I purposely avoid buying groceries in bulk so I can save some cash, though it almost always comes back to bite me come time for my stomach to grumble. Instead of something substantial, I’ll eat whatever I can scrap together. And I don’t mean to toot my own horn here – it usually turns out quite good.

It happened yesterday. The first find was a box of Clear Value pancake mix I bought back in June, thinking I would be waking up at 6 a.m. to make myself breakfast every morning (or even once) this semester. “Just add water!” it says. The box doesn’t seal, so every time I knock it around in the cabinet a clump white powder shoots out of the top.

The second was a jar of Skippy peanut butter. I haven’t bought bread in a while, so the peanut butter and a jar of jelly have no edible home. One thought is to just freehand them, or to make a nice sandwich using the open pack of tortillas in the back of the fridge and the sandwich press (actually a good option, now that I think of it …).

The third piece of the puzzle was a half bag of Dum Dum’s (dessert) and a bunch of spices. The result: “homemade” cinnamon pancakes with a big glob of peanut butter on each one and some H2O to drink.

Not too shabby, if you ask me. But if I’d been asked what I had for dinner without looking, I would have thought only of the Dum Dums and neglected what turned out to be a delicious Frankenstein of a meal. Other results of this method have included the egg and cilantro taco, the blueberry bagel sandwich, and the green beans and jambalaya rice (also from June).

We tend to always want more than we have. We’re uncomfortable to “get by” without the excess, even through if you look, everything you could need is just in the back of the cabinets. Take it from someone who, on occasion, eats wheat bread for dinner: It can be liberating to break free from that mentality. Maybe you don’t need a TV for Christmas, but I can bet you could use the socks you grumble about every year.

But now I’ll get down from my soapbox and go make one of those tortilla PB&Js.