I Am What (and Why) I Eat | Cleaning Out the Pantry

I consider myself a “foodie”—someone who is avidly interested in food, specifically cooking and eating. I collect and read cookbooks for fun, pore over recipes when I plan my weekly menu, and consistently make time for my husband and I to enjoy dinners out at one of our many local restaurants in Iowa City.

And yet, I find that in the past five years or so, my relationship with food changed.

It started happening when I became immersed in what I call becoming a grown-up (e.g. buying a home, getting hitched, having babies, finding your niche professionally, banning those crazy-making people from your inner circle, and so on).  Being a grown-up is at once intensely stressful and joyous. And both emotions create a context for eating, whether it be preparing gourmet meals to share with family or friends or binging on frosted flakes all alone to avoid the less-sweet things about grown-up life. The former fills you up, both literally and in your soul. The latter, well, let’s just say it can fill you up, period!

Not wanting to become like the huge Scot in Mike Myers’ Austin Powers franchise, wailing, “I eat because I’m unhappy…and I’m unhappy because I eat!”, I decided to go about creating an environment more conducive to an overall healthy relationship with food. My husband was on board, also having the desire to eat more healthy foods, so it was great timing for all.

I started with a good look at my pantry.

Pantry Before

From a distance, it looks like your typical over-crowded shelves with various canned and boxed food. Take a closer look, however, and you’ll see some odd couples rubbing elbows on the shelves. Take cereal, for example: my cereal shelf spans the breakfast spectrum from whole foods—including yummy homemade blueberry almond granola—to boxes of complete crap void of nutritional value (Cocoa-Rageous, anyone?).

And the grains have no room to talk. Panko bread crumbs with partially-hydrogenated soybean oil (gasp!) and sugar hang out with whole grain brown rice and dried pinto beans. Have you no pride, panko? That plastic bin on the middle shelf? Yep, that’s candy. Does it make it better if it’s contained in one little box? I thought so. Some might be able to just grab a few junior mints, chew and savor them slowly to satisfy a sweet tooth, but if you think I can do that, we haven’t met.

The fact is, my pantry had an identity crisis. I needed to define just what it is my pantry would be: A place stocked with mostly whole foods to make satisfying and delicious meals or a refuge for stress-eating?

And so began the purge, with five steps to get me started. 

5 Steps for Redefining My Pantry’s Purpose


First I decided to do what one of my favorite “real food” bloggers suggests and read all of my packaged food labels. I emptied the pantry and reviewed each label. If there was a word I didn’t understand, I looked it up. Although I consider myself fairly food-label conscious, I was surprised by some of the products—like the bread crumbs mentioned above—that I had mistakenly assumed would be free of words that need Googling to understand.


I kept some processed foods. White flour, cake flour, brown sugar, and powdered sugar, for example, kept their spot on the second shelf because I love to bake with flour, eggs, butter, and sugar. It’s part of who I am. I’m not interested in tofu cheesecake or gluten-free cookies, nor do I have a medical condition, allergy, or personal philosophy that requires it. No judgment, but ick. What I will commit to is having more intention when I eat this kind of food. I’ll make delicious treats when there is occasion to do so, instead of stocking the pantry with Oreos to turn to if I have a rough patch in my week.


I made three areas on my kitchen island. One pile included highly-processed foods to toss and recycle the packaging. The next was a donate pile. Organizing your pantry is a great time to gather donations for your local food bank. I visited the Johnson County Food Bank website and set aside items I had on their “Top Ten” list of needs and bagged it for donation. The final pile was the good food to keep pile. These would return to my pantry. Peace out, processed panko!


With more space to work with, I had room to try new things. I bought my first bag of quinoa. Yes, I realize I’m late to this Bolivian seed party, but I’ve also never seen the movie Swingers, so I’m prone to missing the boat from time to time.


While my rationale for keeping some processed foods might make me seem like a hypocrite, I did reflect on what I wanted food to mean in my life and what the next step might be in our relationship. I asked myself if I could give up highly-processed sweets for good and the answer was, “Heck to the no!” We had to live through the Hostess shutdown and it was a dark, dark time. As you can tell, food and I have a complicated relationship.

Pantry After Close Up

The result of this afternoon exercise was a pantry that is more representative of the way I want to approach food in this next phase in my life.

Next up? The freezer. I’m talking about you, frozen ice cream treats!


Sherri is a transplant from Oregon who came to be a Hawkeye in 2006 and stayed for the sweet corn...and for the Iowa boy she met along the way! She and her husband (Kyle) have a 9 year-old daughter, Aissa. Sherri earned her Ph.D. in Higher Education and Student Affairs at The University of Iowa and works for Ruffalo Noel Levitz as an Enrollment Marketing Consultant for colleges and universities. When she's not working, you can find her with her family, enjoying Iowa City and cheering on the Hawkeyes.


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