GEEZER TRIBE: Why it’s so darned hard to toss out food

by Linda Shaffer

Last night I decided to use up a packaged sauce mix which had lived in our cupboard for a long, long time. When I opened the package, I could have sworn I saw something move. When I poured the contents into a sauce pan and added water, I saw a lot of things moving. A colony of small, dark brown bugs had taken up residence in my sauce mix and it seemed to have suited them because they truly had gone forth and multiplied. I was pretty sad about throwing the whole mess down the drain. If it was just one bug, I would have shrugged it off but I couldn’t eat an army of them and quickly grew tired of trying to squash them one at a time.

Wasting food just isn’t in my genetic make-up. I’ll bet it’s not in yours either. Most of us who were born in the 1940s and 50s were raised in the “clean plate club” era. If you were served a meal, it’s likely you ate at a table with your family and you were lucky. It is also likely that you were asked to eat what you took or what you were served. This is why most kids hated the phrase, “I’ll make up a plate for you.” Yikes. This opened the door to all sorts of possibilities, including liver. Liver could come out of the kitchen hiding under white or red gravy, brought to you with love by a well-meaning but sneaky adult.
Not eating what was served could earn you a stern lecture about all the starving children in China. You could also sit at the table for hours staring at a plate of food you didn’t want or be sent to your room to suffer food waste guilt. Most of us did the same thing, though to a lesser degree, with our own kids. Trust that I never served liver to my family. I did cook it for people who liked it but that’s as close as I got to the stuff. As time went on I also learned that my parents had told the truth about starving children but that they were all around the world, not just in China.
I think most of us developed a respect for food early in our lives and never lost it. We were coupon clippers and bargain seekers. I can’t tell you how happy I was when they started showing prices per ounce or per piece. Comparison shoppers are so easily entertained. We are the ones who get in the way of your cart at the store while we read labels. Supply, demand and budget made shopping and cooking a challenge during the years we raised our families. I don’t remember wasting food during those years because it got consumed by hungry kids. We stuck with the basics when it came to cooking at home. On the rare occasion we dined out it was at one of two types of restaurants, Chinese or all-you-can-eat buffet.
Things changed as the nest emptied. We took more of an interest in cooking and eating. Budgeting for groceries was less important because we had more money by then. We bought special ingredients and cooked out of exotic cook books. We got hooked on the Food Channel. We created dishes from all over the world at home. In order to do this we had to stock up on ingredients and utensils we’d never used before. Food was for fun and you can’t have too much of that so we just kept going. Now we have two cupboards full of spices and extracts. We have one cupboard full of weird stuff. Yes, I know I should go through this stuff and throw away what we don’t use. No, I have not been able to do that.
After a year or so of not being able to do a lot of cooking and no baking, I am reminded of the glory days every time I open a cupboard door. The supply and demand train has gone off the tracks. Now we shop for basics and try to use ALL of what we buy in addition to chipping away at inventory. The only problem with this new plan is that old food just gets older, just like the old people who can’t throw it away. Not even the food bank wants this stuff. Maybe those little brown bugs mentioned earlier are doing us a favor after all. I wonder if they can eat through cans.
Have a good week my friends.