It seems to happen in the blink of an eye. One minute it’s all clean and orderly, then you close the door, turn your back, and things start to happen when you aren’t looking. Objects multiply and change, while other bits hide and lurk in the dark only to make their presence known in an unpleasant way when they’ve been long since forgotten.
Yes, I’m referring to the world inside our refrigerators.
Any Real Woman with at least one other person living under her roof and sharing her cold storage is familiar with the Saga of the Leftovers. We were all raised to not waste food. If there is anything that does not get immediately eaten, it is to be re-packaged and slid into the refrigerator or freezer until such time it can be brought back out, recycled, re-served, and consumed. At least that is the theory. Reality, however, is rarely that smooth and effective.
This past week, we hosted a large weekend gathering of friends and family… and, as is typically true of our social get-togethers, large amounts of food of all types was served. Even though the folks involved in this group had good appetites, there were plenty of leftovers. And in the rush to get things put away after every meal, those food stuffs were poured, spooned, dropped and spread into a myriad of containers. Each time this was done, there was the grand search through the SFT (Scary Forest of Tupperware) in my cabinet, or a rushed scrounging for the right size Ziploc to cover the food. Once cleaned up and packaged, there was the next dreaded step: finding space in cold storage. Luckily, I have a second refrigerator/freezer unit in my basement. It is not large, and usually is home to a variety of beverages — but when necessary, it becomes Food Overflow.
When either my stepson or my nephews are visiting, leftovers are rarely an issue – food fairly rapidly disappears….but when it is just my immediate family unit, I’m sad to say we aren’t that efficient. As a matter of fact, I frequently have an internal battle with myself as I clean up after dinner…. “do I throw this out now and feel guilty, or do I store it away hoping I’ll re-use it, only to have it go bad and get thrown out anyway?”
So last night, several days after the gathering, I opened my fridge door and sighed. It was time to do a clean out. As a general rule, I sort through the contents of my refrigerator and freezer on a weekly basis, cleaning out anything that is expired or will not be repurposed. And each time, I feel like a combination between Jacques Cousteau and Marie Curie. I don’t know whether to be fascinated or frightened by what I may find.
Like some sort of magical dark world, or a mad scientist’s laboratory, the contents of the fridge change over time. There are a few things that are inevitable: fruit changes color and either gets mushy or grows white fuzzy stuff. Lunch meat gets slimy and funky smelling. Cheese turns green. Liquids freeze, separate, grow scum or turn sour. Yet each time I enter this chilly environment, I feel like I discover or learn something new. Who knew that guacamole turns the color of chocolate pudding? Did you ever notice that some products pleasantly suggest “best by” dates, while others carry a more dire proclamation to “use by”? And why is it that my milk may only last a week, but half-and-half apparently is good for a whole ‘nother month?
I bravely dig on, until I can actually see all the way to the back of the unit, I can wipe down some spills off shelves, and the light is actually bright again. Similar products are categorized together (dairy on one shelf, fruit on another, jams and jellies hanging out in one happy family), and I feel at peace with my cold storage…. until…… either I go grocery shopping and refill the space, or make several meals and start the leftover cycle all over again.
Now I completely realize, and embarrassingly admit, that this is a stereotypical “First World Problem.” Oh, gee, darn, I have too much food. What an ironically twisted issue with so many hungry people in not only the world, but our own country and even neighborhoods. I do donate non-perishable food items as often as possible, and I’ve started getting my son involved in some volunteer work at our local Food Pantry. I remember as a child, my mother once tried the tactic on me to get me to eat by saying “eat your supper, there are children starving in other parts of the world.” I remember looking at her in horror and saying “well, quick, let’s send this to them!” Truly if there was some way to safely donate the contents of my fridge before they turned into a science experiment, I’d be thrilled.
In the meantime, I will do my best to monitor what goes in and what goes out. I will be as creative as I can in re-cycling, re-using and re-purposing the items that live in there. And when all else fails, perhaps I can save some interesting specimens for the Smithsonian.