“What is this?”
I was looking for some celery in the vegetable drawer. What I found looked like a dead green octopus.
There were other things in there that used to be vegetables, but were now composting at an alarming rate. Is cauliflower better-tasting when it’s brown? Are carrots supposed to be as soft to the touch as raw hot dogs? And how can you tell if broccoli has gone bad? It seems to taste the same.
Why am I throwing away more veggies than I eat? Because I treat every shopping trip as a chance to stock up. If one can of peas is good, why not buy two? If one head of lettuce is good, two must be better. I keep thinking that by stocking up, I won’t have to go to the grocery store as often, so I’ll be saving time and money. The fact that I often end up throwing out the second head of lettuce, now wilted, or that the extra cucumbers will turn into a soggy mess in the bag I so carefully placed them in, never factors into the equation.
In my head, having a lot of greens and vegetables in my grocery cart means I’m eating healthy. But the reality is that I look at them in the fridge, then shut the door and dig around in the freezer for some hamburger patties or pizza. As you may have already guessed, buying vegetables and then throwing them out doesn’t improve my health.
I also used to buy a lot of different salad dressings that I would use once, put in the refrigerator door shelves, and forget about. Sesame Ginger, Raspberry Vinaigrette, Sriracha Ranch, Mesquite Chia Turmeric Balsamic Something-or-Other. Food buzzwords in a bottle. Yet the one I end up using over and over again was plain old Thousand Island. The others wait like understudies in a Broadway musical, hoping to get their one big chance to show what they can do. Many are months or even years past their “best used by” date, and yet they look and smell exactly the same as the day they were opened. If only food science could extend the shelf life of our bodies the way it can for salad dressing. We’d all live to be 300.
In her book about processed food, “Pandora’s Lunchbox,” journalist Melanie Warner tells a story about leaving things in her refrigerator long after their shelf lives to see what would eventually happen to them. Do they rot? Would they rot after a few weeks? Months? If not, why not? While Warner was traveling, her mother, unaware of the experiment in the fridge, stayed in her apartment for a few days and ate a nine-month-old container of guacamole. On her return, Warner wondered how her mom could have choked down something so awful, and why she wasn’t in a hospital recovering from a giant case of food poisoning. Hadn’t she noticed anything off? It was “a little spicy,” her mom admitted. It seemed to have no effect on her health at all.
Haven’t we all done that? Eaten a big hunk of cheese, and then noticed there was mold on the bottom? Spread some jam on toast, eaten it and then, while putting the lid on the jar, spotted some blue-green fur on the lip of the glass? Or spotted mold on the loaf of bread after you’ve eaten a sandwich? How many times have you been making a recipe that calls for sour cream, knowing full well that you have a container of it in the fridge, only to find that it’s now penicillin?
Realizing I’ve been throwing away money on fresh food, I’ve started to buy more frozen produce. Now I put bags of frozen blueberries and pre-cut and sliced vegetables in my cart. I still buy two bags of each: not to save time and money, but to hide the frozen hamburgers and pizza at the bottom of the freezer from myself.
(Contact Jim Mullen at firstname.lastname@example.org.)