Spring Cleaning

I really, really hate to waste food.

I’m somewhere near neurotic about it, to the point that I will not throw anything away until it is completely inedible.  Expiration dates and “best by” dates and “sell by” dates have always just been suggestions for me and, knock on wood, since I’ve got a pretty good eye and nose and generally know what’s safe to eat, I haven’t accidentally caught a helping of botulism or salmonella because of it.

Now, to some extent, there’s nothing wrong with this.  Food’s expensive, starving children in China, and all of that.  There’s nothing wrong with being thrifty and creative with leftovers and being able to turn them into something new.  There’s nothing wrong with “using every part of the buffalo;” there’s a pork bone in my freezer right now just waiting to be thrown in a crock pot full of beans and that’s alright with me.

But then there’s the borderline hoarder reasoning. The expectation that “at some point I’m going to want that and if I throw it away that pretty much guarantees that that moment will follow in the next 24 hours.” As though there’s some kind of Food Karma out there that’s just waiting for me to waste that box of Zatarain’s Dirty Rice so that I can then instantly be inflicted with a mixture of regret and insatiable desire for a special melange of sodium, carbs, and msg — and not just any carbs, but the very ones that I JUST THREW IN THE TRASH OH GOD BRUSH THE BOX OFF THEY’RE STILL GOOD I CAN COOK THEM RIGHT NOW (or maybe I’ll just just eat an apple and put that back on the shelf.  For later.)

A less melodramatic version of this internal monologue has occurred at least four times in the past month as I looked in my pantry and started to throw away a stale, half-eaten can of Pringles that I bought six months ago.

  • They’re still edible, just a little stale.
  • I paid good money for that.
  • I’m going to want chips as soon as I throw those away.
  • If I throw them away it will just give me an excuse to buy more the next time I go shopping.
  • They’re not *that* unhealthy; they’re low fat.
  • There’s plenty of room in there, it’s not as if the pantry is a mess, so there’s no real need to throw it away.
  • If I get rid of the crackers, the chili might stage a coup.
  • I might need that to fix the lawnmower.
  • I can use that in a decoupage project!

Yeah.  Because of this, my pantry and freezer have often been something of a time capsule, through which an expert archaeological dig can reveal every time I went to the grocery store hungry, every time a canned good was on sale, every time I embarked on a new health/food trend, and my tendency to forget that I already had salad dressing — six bottles of it, in fact.

Where this becomes problematic is the simple fact that most food that can be stockpiled in this manner is hardly food at all. See also, Rice a Roni.

That can of pumpkin will be starting school in the fall!

"What do you mean a black man has been elected President? That's crazy talk!" -- Sweetened Condensed Milk

With this in mind, over the past few months, I’ve been making a very concerted effort to clean out my fridge, freezer, and pantry.  I think the can of pumpkin that was Best Before 10/21/2001 had something to do with that.  That can of pumpkin had been through TWO moves.  But, hey, it’s pumpkin.  It’s in a can.  It’s fine, it just — I’ll use it in a pie or some pumpkin penne or something.  (And then the next time I make pumpkin and sage penne I’ll either use fresh pumpkin or I’ll simply forget that I have that pumpkin and buy another can.)

Right.  Anyway.

So, overall, the purge of the pantry has been going extremely well, and I’ve probably pared the contents down by half, now.  It’s practically unrecognizable in there.

The current problem, of course, is that now the things that are left in there are the things that I’m embarrassed to admit I actually purchased, let alone that I’m expecting myself to eat them. Some of these things I wouldn’t even take to a food bank (and many of them are too expired to do so), but I can’t waste food, so I have to eat them.

Seriously?  Yes, seriously.

A few weeks ago, I attempted to make this situation marginally better by setting a deadline.  Any crap food that’s still in the pantry by April 15 gets thrown away, no balking, no shirking. There’s a light at the end of the tunnel and I don’t have to eat all that awful processed garbage in there unless I actually want it between now and then.  It’s the same idea behind boxing up items you don’t wear/use and if you don’t open the box in a year, then donate it, sight unseen.  If my “healthier me” doesn’t want to eat those things within the next six weeks, then there’s no reason to have them around.

This is when “Can’t Waste Food” voice rears its head and I begin to feel guilty about not making an effort to eat some of that food in there.  OK, so I’ll try to plan a menu around using some of it.  That’s fun.

So, last night I pulled a box of Nondescript Sodium Laden Carb Paste, Just Add Pink Slime out of the pantry.  I can’t even remember the mindset I was in when I bought it, but there it was.

Heath prepared it (thoughtfully balanced with some really fantastic sauteed asparagus so that we didn’t completely shut down our digestive systems).  We ate That Which Shall Not Be Named.  We did a lot of “well, it’s not so bad.  It’s not as salty as I was afraid of.  It’s…well, that’s one more thing down, right?”

Mmmm, MSG!

That box of Pasta Roni is opened, indicating the number of times I thought "OK, I'll eat that" and then couldn't bring myself to even pour it in the pan.

It wasn’t “so bad,” except that immediately after forcing down another serving of it today I wanted nothing more than to curl up in a ball and take a nap.  At 1:15 in the afternoon.  And I’m expecting myself to do this for those other boxes of pre-packaged hell in there?

So apparently I think it’s somehow “better” to make myself feel like crap than to throw away a $2.29 box of preservatives that even the Second Harvest Food Bank wouldn’t accept.

Why?

Keeping that food in there — forcing myself to eat it — is just prolonging my reaching my health goals.  In fact, I’d even say it’s taking me further backwards, because I have actually reached a point where I don’t needlessly crave carbs, where I would rather have fruit than baked goods, where I’m not drinking sugary fruit juices or sodas — but I’m putting myself in a position where I might risk losing that progress by making myself prepare and eat the box of cupcake mix in the pantry (I’m not even sure where that one came from).

Typically on those food rehab shows, they have Jamie Oliver or [Insert Name Here] come in and clean out all the junk food to reduce cravings, to keep you from reaching for it.  But I’m past that point and for some reason am punishing myself for it.

I’m…going to go throw those Pringles away.  For real this time.

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