I have the hardest time remembering to eat all of the food I bring home from the grocery. As much as I try to menu plan, I end up going out with friends for dinner and things start going bad. Just yesterday I found some lemons that were rock hard on the counter. I had taken time to put them in a wooden bowl but under a pile of Times Picayunes they practically petrified. Any suggestions?
Waste Not, Want Not
Dear Waste Not,
You may not want to know this, but those lemons are still good. There is a time when food truly goes bad, but there is a whole timeline of decomposition that is highly undervalued and fair game. You will know when the time comes for your forgotten food to find its final resting place - the trash, the compost the magical whirring garbage disposal. But until that time there is a lot of play. Wilty sad lettuce becomes a pesto or cooked green, soft tomatoes get trimmed and put into a sauce. And those lemons, those dry hard lemons that have confusingly transformed themselves into hard orbs, they have been slowly conserving energy, the moisture in the skin slowly drawing outward producing a protective shell. But if you are brave enough to balance a cleaver on it, get your fingers out of the way and get inside, those lemons are still good. It is as surprising as my first encounter with a geode. It is everyday magic of both the lemon and its desire to be a lemon, and of you the person still willing to see the value within it.
To value each piece of food you bring into the kitchen is the best way I know of reducing waste. To find a place for each fruit in your hunger will guarantee its use. There are other ways that involve not doing, not wasting food, not wasting water, not wasting money. But I find that the most effective avenues for change are ways that channel yes. To find a way to cultivate gratitude for the plate in front of you. I am hungry and this food in my fridge will nourish me and give me energy.
To make the best use of the things in your fridge requires becoming comfortable with simplicity and eating down the fridge to its bare form. In this situation is is helpful to keep some staples on your shelf such as rice and bread. Scraps of meat and veggies are delicious on rice or toast. Ok, also a bottle of tamari or olive oil might be a good idea. The right mood can help you cultivate appreciation, turning on a good song, clearing the table from all the debris that normally lives there.
Also, hiding the cooking magazines might be a good idea, lest one of the covers tempt you into running to the store to try a new recipe on a whim. Let’s not forget that those magazines are designed to sell product not satisfy your hunger. During the final stages you might have to unplug your internet connection. Goodbye food blogs and netflix that can unwittingly entice you to want for things that aren’t in your fridge. There is a primal fear of shortage that you must confront, but the most interesting food cultures arise not from abundance but from economy. It is the slow simmered ends that make the best soup, it is the savory pie that finds its new identity from bits of roast leftover covered with a pie crust of mashed potatoes.
Do not feel like you must conceal your new simpler ways. Friends, would you like to come over for tomato on toast? Salt and pepper liberally. Instagram if you must.
It is a beautiful experience to illicit desire. We do not have enough of it in our lives. Congratulate yourself. Admire the fine bones of the inside of the fridge. Give the cheese drawer a little wipe with a damp towel. Is the fridge light brighter than you imagined?
Now write a list, go to the store, and begin again.