Thursday, October 7, 2010

Spendthrift, Foodthrift

The Green Phone Booth welcomes Alison, who writes about life, family and superheroes at The Secret Life Of A Warrior Woman.

My parents grew up during the privations of World War Two and its aftermath. Everything was used to its max and sometimes beyond. My mother, in particular, inherited the can't-waste-it mentality - she still uses pots that must be pushing 50 years old.

And I learned at her knee.

I thought it was common to cut the leg off a pair of nylons when I got a hole - then pair it with a similarly mutilated one. Wearing two midriffs held my stomach in well and of course I got more life out of the healthy legs that were left.

I mentioned this apparently brilliant notion of thrift to my friends one day only to have them fall about laughing. They had never heard of such a thing. So I asked them if they didn't cut open bottles of face cream and scoop out the dregs that collected around the bottom and the top.

They did not.

They also didn't save scraps of soap and squish them together nor did they swish water around a bottle of shampoo to get a couple more latherings.

So, I don't know. Maybe I'm out of step but I still do all these little things. Seems commonsense, cost-effective and quaint to me. I'm proud of my mother for doing these things. She does them for reasons to do with deprivation and cost-effectiveness. But these days she's considered green.

However, I have developed one habit out of this isn't so laudable, a bit weird and maybe even slightly pathological.

I can't throw away food.

Nope, can't do it.

Just can't bear to.

I can't even write why.

Because I don't know.

I tell myself it has bacteria in it or on it. I tell myself I could make myself sick. Then I tell myself these people who make up the guidelines for throwing out food err on the side of caution, are in cahoots with the food manufacturers, or just plain ridiculous.

I can't throw away food.

Instead, I cook the food to death (for the second or third time.)

I refreeze it.

I smell it.

I move it around the fridge or ignore it sitting there.

But mostly I serve it up and cross my fingers.

I'm sure many of you are aghast, disgusted even. But the thing I do that I consider worse than crossing my fingers is eating up food so I don’t have to throw it away. Even when I’m not hungry.

I see it in my fridge, know it's time will soon be up, tell myself it's perfectly good food and in it goes.

Instead of going to waste, it goes on my waist.

My weight creeps up and then I have to work at that. Could I make life even more difficult for myself? Enough already!

I can't even begin to analyze why I do this, take these risks.

I don't want to.

Who cares why, lets work on what.

So I set myself a goal of throwing something away everyday. Yesterday it was chicken with spaghetti. Today, it was cream cheese. I have the suckers identified for at least tomorrow and the next day.

And then, an idea struck me. I could avoid all this angst by, wait for it, drum roll please... composting! Yes, composting! Someone suggested it in the comments section of my blog. What a brilliant idea! Not only do I get rid of the aftermath of science experiments conducted in my kitchen, I get to recycle! I avoid illness, guilt and bacteria all in one fell swoop of the chicken coop!

And so lovingly, every day, I source at least one thing for the compost bin knowing that I’m saving myself a whole heap of trouble.

And producing a whole heap of glorious compost in its’ place. I’ve engaged my kids in the ritual. Teaching them to get rid of old food. Teaching them to compost and fertilize and nourish. By doing that, I get to delegate and most of all, I get to satisfy that little voice that tells me to ‘waste not, want not.’

Turning that vicious circle into a virtuous one.


JAM said...

You've got chickens now, right? We sold ours (puppy coming, dad with cancer, too much to deal with) so we're back to composting food but when we had the hens we gave them all sorts of leftover food. It was such a great feeling to know that the food was not being wasted. Now that we are back to composting leftovers we feel "guilty" that they can't eat it (they're just across town but I'd feel silly making a delivery to them!!!) And we do pretty much all of the other things you mentioned - here in the frugal Northeast most people do. I definitely noticed when we lived in the Midwest that people weren't as frugal as we are here - and it has nothing to do with how much money you have - we know millionaires that won't turn on their heat until November since they know they can tough it out and don't want to waste money!

Sense of Home said...

I can relate. Throwing anything out is hard. Composting helps, but I also find myself putting a portion of our meal in the freezer so it will keep for later and I don't waste it or send it to the compost pile.

Where I live there are rich, older people who save and reuse bread bags. They recycle everything and it is not because of the new "green" movement, they grew up when times were tough and you were not to waste anything. Not a bad mind-set.


Anonymous said...

I am the queen of compost, but I never put anything in there that could be eaten. I cannot understand the mentality of leftovers somehow being "bad." To me, leftovers are something I count on so I don't have to cook every day!

My father grew up in the depression in extreme poverty, and I have spent times in my life living WAY beneath the poverty level. Frankly, it pisses me off to see people wasting things. I agree with "Sense of Home." If you can't eat it all now, freeze it for later! There is just no excuse for wasting food as far as I'm concerned.

So here's my current dilemma... I have severe food allergies, and the latest suspect is pears. But there are two perfectly good pears in the fridge right now... OK OK... I know I really NEED to throw those out, but maybe the neighbors would like them?

Anonymous said...

BTW - doesn't spendthrift actually mean the opposite of being thrifty? Websters defines a spendthrift as an extravagant person. It also says that the word comes from an earlier meaning of "thrift" when the word meant "wealth". Now that's an interesting little gem isn't it? "Thrift" once meant "wealth!" Sort of puts a whole new spin on the concept!

Erin aka Conscious Shopper said...

Another thing that works for us is to plan for leftovers. My husband eats leftovers for lunch every day and if the leftovers pile up beyond that, we eat them for dinner. Our big problem is "table scraps" - food left on my kids' plates at the end of the meal, and in that case I also have the problem you mention where I eat it even if I'm not hungry. I've often thought that I should skip lunch and just eat my kids' leftovers.

Daisy said...

Composting is one thing. The other solution is this: cook less! Keep the portions smaller when you cook it the first time, and you won't have leftovers.

Anonymous said...

Oh God, I TOTALLY plan for leftovers--it's in our meal plan, even.

But what do you do with food-gone-bad that's not veggie-based? I mean, can you really compost bad stinky cheese and stuff, or beans-and-rice-with-red-gooey-sauce, and stuff like that?

I'm totally with Alison--I stretch one cooking worth of meal out for days, first it's leftovers, then when there aren't enough leftovers to feed one or two of us it becomes soup. Or taco filling. Or gets drowned in pasta sauce. Whatever...

Green Bean said...

I love the way you, write, Alison! Truly entertaining.

@JAM: This was written by a friend, Alison. I, on the other hand, do have chickens and what a garbage disposal they are! Better than the compost because I feel even less guilty.

JAM said...

Whoops, yes, I see I did not read that clearly up front! But to answer another commenter's question, yes, you totally can compost stinky cheese and stuff with sauce, etc. You can compost pretty much everything. Even meat - the whole prohibition on that is that they don't want suburban compost to attract animals, and I think meat needs a higher temp to fully decompose which is better done by the big compost piles, but a bit of spaghetti sauce with hamburger in it or something is not going to be a problem. I put everything in the compost.

Callie said...

I grew up in the '40's and I do all the little saving things too. But...! I got food poisoning when I was a kid along with the rest of the family and I throw out food when it is past the fresh stage. You only have to feel like you are going to die (or wish you could) from eating old food to quickly come to the decision not to eat it. Compost it, or toss it. I wouldn't give old food to my chickens. I don't want them to get sick. Not being wasteful is a good thing. So now I'm green. Who knew?

Alison Golden said...

@Jam: I would love to have chickens, especially now I know they eat anything and everything. Unfortunately, my DH doesn't share the passion.

@Sense of Home: I love the 'waste not, want not' mentality. There's a real spiritual lightness for me in repurposing something.

@Rebecca: You're right 'spendthrift' is a term for an extravagant person. In this case, it is an ironic term and also a play on words. Did you give those pears to your neighbor? Do not eat them! It isn't worth damaging your health.

@Erin: I plan for leftovers, too. It's the small scrappy odds and ends that I am usually left with after I have run out of creative energy that cause me the problem.

@Greenmom: Yes, I do soup, pasta sauce drownings too. I learned many of these skills when I was backpacking on a $1 a day, too many moons ago.

@Daisy: Cooking less is good. Freezing is good. Planning menus and buying only what you need is good.

@Green Bean: 'Mwah, mwah!' :)

@Callie: Isn't it interesting how what used to be essential for many people to get by is now a green *choice.* Shows us how times have a-changed.

Anonymous said...

We just added our compost that has been in production for the last two years. Let me tell that is was one o the biggest feelings of accomplishment. We used black plastic heavy mill contractor bags and poked holes in them as an experiment. It WORKED! The were easy to tumble and so economical too.

Now my dream is to have chickens.

Love your blog - on the same wave length.

- Kelly


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