The Back of the Pantry
by Jerry DeNuccio
I’m not quite sure how it happens. Perhaps it’s some electromagnetic flux; possibly it’s some excitation in the quantum field; maybe some quirky quark or nervy neutrino is to blame. Most likely, though, it results from the action of a less elemental, more familiar physics; the law of non-use shuffle and displacement. I’m speaking, of course, of the way little-used pantry items migrate to the backs of pantry shelves.
Recently, after a rather clumsy reach over something to get at something else sent several items clattering off a pantry shelf and onto the floor, I decided, right there and then, to reorganize. A shelf makeover, lateral and interior, was in order. I began methodically pulling items off the shelf, working my way in, determined, once the shelf was clear, to forestall future jostling by following a staggered, smaller-to-larger organizational pattern. And then, suddenly, there it was, dust-laden and laired in the back-of-the-shelf darkness: a 32 fluid ounces bottle of 100 % pure, handpicked and pulped Sea Buckthorn. I had forgotten I purchased it. The $40 Good Earth price tag, the broken seal, and a missing one ounce reminded me why I had forgotten.
Normally, I am the most circumspect of spenders. Now, it is true that my wife Kathy demands that I surrender my credit and debit cards to her before I enter a book store or a Home Depot. I argued that an exuberance for enlightenment and self-reliance justified my conspicuous consumption in those two areas. She pointed out the piles of books unread and tools unused. And that, as they say, was that.
In everything else, however, I am an inconspicuous consumer, a reluctant spender. Mistress Ford’s wily come-on to Falstaff in “Merry Wives of Windsor—“There is money; spend it, spend it; spend more”—is not a disposition I can imagine for myself. So, how was it that I, seemingly genetic with fiscal caution, came to hand over $40 for a bottle of Sea Buckthorn?
A confluence of things, really. First, Sea Buckthorn has the cache of deep time and cultural embedding. It’s mentioned as a curative in several ancient Greek medical treatises, and its Latin name, Hippophae, meaning “shining horse,” originates in a Greek legend: some war-ravaged horses, loosed into a forest to die, returned, glossy-coated and reinvigorated. Why the catalyzing metamorphosis? An investigation found the forest filled with freshly eaten sea buckthorn bushes. According to another legend, the formidable Genghis Khan and his soldiers drank sea buckthorn juice for strength and endurance. Indeed, medicinal uses of sea buckthorn are recorded in the deep histories of several Asian cultures. Russian cosmonauts in the 1980s were given sea buckthorn as an anti-radiant, and, to energize its efforts, the 2008 Chinese Olympic team used it as the team beverage. Oh, and Dr. Oz recommends it.
Who could resist anything featured in the plot line of an over-two-millennia story? Why, it had me with the transformed horses. Who wouldn’t be interested in something so regenerative, so vitalizing, so fortifying; something used to remedy arthritis, gout, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, degenerative eye disease, aging, lusterless hair, and skin rashes? And then there’s sea buckthorn’s nutritional profile: packed with 14 essential vitamins and minerals, including more vitamin C than oranges, and brimming with hundreds of other nutrients; teeming with fatty acid omegas 3, 6, 7, and 9; and laden with antioxidants. Nutritionally, sea buckthorn is pyrotechnic.
And then, finally, that imbecility that sometimes pings me with compulsivity, that leaves me vulnerable to fanciful conviction, that sometimes assaults me, that outflanks the trip-wire perimeter of my pre-frontal cortext, overruns all executive control, and leaves me hoisting a white flag of surrender. Here, in this humble bottle of sea buckthorn, is the porridge of potency; here, for a paltry $40, is the elixir, the holy grail of nutrition, the royal road to healthful vim and vigor—here it is, easy and convenient, a mere 32 ounces away.
How, then, did this ostensibly magical potion wind up at the back of the pantry shelf? In a word: taste. It was unpalatable, a felonious assault on the taste buds. Some users claim sea buckthorn has a tart, citrusy flavor. I found it oily, astringent, and aggressively unpleasant—the kind of thing that would require remembering the upside of its benefits to tolerate the underside of its rank repugnance. A barium sulfate suspension would have been more savory. A heaping helping of sugar might have gotten it within a zipcode or two of almost being nearly tasty. It tasted the way a slurry-sodden field smells. It tasted like raw guitar feedback sounds. It tasted like a bug-spattered windshield looks. It tasted like a sat-upon scorpion feels. Even Dr. Oz agrees that the taste is disagreeable.
On the pantry shelf the sea buckthorn went, and shunned, it made its way, over time and the addition of other items, to the environing dark of the shelf back. Upon rediscovering it, I thought that I had perhaps been too hasty in my initial judgment. Maybe I should give it another try. But the memory of its taste returned, vividly, shudderingly, and I knew that, compared to my being able to swallow another ounce, Sissyphus’s rock and roll was a piece of cake. I know my limits: I will not enter a steeple chase simply because I can step over a threshold. So, the sea buckthorn made its final journey: from the back of the shelf to the bottom of the garbage basket.