Writing from the Heart: Check the date

I’m not throwing out ‘expired’ food until I determine it's expired.


My kids used to look at the expiration dates on food when they were perusing what their teenage bodies were craving in that big humming General Electric icebox holding all manner of possibilities. They would grab a jar and squint reading the faded date, and say, “Mom, this is two months over. You have to throw this out.” They knew better. I throw nothing out.

Even green fuzz has its place at my table.

They found edible honey in the ancient Egyptian tombs. No one said, “I’d love some black tea, but something’s wrong with this honey. Just look at the date.”

I come from Depression Mentality, not mine directly but a legacy burden from my parents. The 1929 Depression. Once you watched your parents collect lightbulbs for the filament and silver foil from sticks of gum and Green Stamps for those books so you could redeem them for a spatula or a plastic sugar bowl, that kind of frugality stays in your veins no matter how much money you have now, or how many takeout leftovers are piling up in the refrigerator. You will not … or maybe I should say, I will not … discard perfectly edible, good food.

It’s amazing how many things you can throw into a soup that had been three string beans from State Road only five nights before, four shrimp from Mikado, and the rest of the coconut water someone left on the counter.

And that’s just food. Don’t get me started on wine. Well, yes, get me started.

Our wine should have “Buyer Beware” on the labels of the opened bottles. My husband lacks the understanding and respect for a wine palate. Which explains why after company has left and there are two half-bottles of totally different wines, he combines them and renames them Chilmark Vineyards, 5782. Best to bring your own. Now that I think of it, our guests actually must know about his wine problem, because they do bring their own.

Then there are the well-meaning friends who have been on vacation and are emptying out their fridges as they are packing up to go back to their winter homes. They drop off bags of what was left in their hydrators, the sticky bottle of Luxardo Italian cherries, the jar with three sundried tomatoes and dripping olive oil. I’ve got a container of gourmet barbecue sauce I know was super-expensive from three summers ago that my friend Dede left me. It looks way too delicious to ditch.

It’s upsetting to me how many young people (oh my God, i keep saying young people with this kind of accusatory tone, as if it’s their fault they haven’t gotten their wisdom yet — I mean they haven’t accumulated enough years to match mine yet) just chuck actual food with unthinking abandon. It actually scares me. I don’t know how they’ll fare when the shortages really are short. But maybe that’s doomsday talk. And really not fair to the pathologically optimistic.

Anyway, to each his own, my mother used to say, and she actually meant it. It’s a quality I thought I had gotten from her until I started writing this piece.

Many of us experienced that thing where the parents said, “Finish your lima beans, there are starving people in China … India … Bangladesh” (pick your country) and then the wisecrack response: “Well, then send it to them.”

I think there really will be shortages of food on the horizon. I fear our grandkids are in for a rude awakening. Maybe I’m just a visionary. In the meantime I will continue to hoard all manner of foodstuffs. And find comfortable homes for them. It’s amazing what a garlic clove, some curry, and some wine turned to vinegar can hide.

Hey, wanna come to dinner? How’s Tuesday?