This is obscene, and yet instructive

In celebrity profiles, which often strangely report on what Jennifer Aniston or Mark Wahlberg or Prince Albert has in her or his refrigerator at precisely that moment, I’ve always studied the information and semi-memorized it. Celebrities seem to keep only a few items on hand, and it’s stuff like Evian water, fig paste, a few limes, small batch IPA, and perhaps some luxury brand facial moisturizer.

I have envied these refrigerators, their emptiness, and the uncluttered personal lives they represent.

Today, I cleaned out our refrigerator. (Warning: this may be the most prosaic thing you read all week. I may be writing this more for me than anyone else.) I discarded a tall-sized garbage bag full of expired or unwanted food. I analyzed the garbage, in order to learn something about our habits and how we might avoid this clutter and waste in the future.

Array of discarded food, 'toon version

The Things We Wasted:

  • Cooked pasta. From now on, let’s cook only what we’ll eat at one sitting.
  • BBQ sauce and salad dressing, variety. I think we see these in the store, want a taste, and must commit to the whole bottle. And then we revert to using the sauces and dressings we make or favor. No more sampling.
  • Vegetables and fruits. We overbuy, with the intention to eat the Food Pyramid every day. We rarely hit that mark. I miss the old Food Pyramid, in fact, with only 5 to 6 servings of veg & fruit daily. (Who can eat 11?)
  • Hard cheeses. Longing for a cheese-and-cracker plate, we buy a selection, eat our cheese and crackers, and then lose these in the back of the refrigerator. The remnants expire. We should only buy the amount needed for one cheese-and-cracker binge at a time.
  • Sandwich meat. Okay, Jimmy, this is yours. We do not need two pounds of sandwich meat per week to make 5 sandwiches for Grace, the only sandwich meat eater. Buy a little. If we run out, she can eat tuna fish.
  • Onion halves. Buy smaller onions.
  • Sour cream, ricotta, plain yogurt. We buy these in 16 oz. containers when we only need a half cup, intending probably to make something in addition to the recipe we have in mind. And then we don’t make that second recipe.
  • Fresh herbs and ginger root. This I’ll blame on the grocery store — it’s impossible to buy just one branch of rosemary or a tiny knob of ginger. And so we collect these, they sink to the bottom of the vegetable bin, and eventually we find them and throw them out. I could try harder to use the ginger; there’s always ginger tea, if I think of it.

I typically clean out the refrigerator at the end of every semester, and I’ve seen this same pattern of items go into the trash before. It’s time to turn these misguided grocery purchases around.

What’s left? Mustard, pickles, mayo. Lots of 6-8 oz. containers of flavored yogurt. Carrots. Oranges. Romaine lettuce. Celery. One lime, and one jalapeño pepper. Eggs. A bottle of Prosecco. Maple syrup. Butter. Goat cheese. Brie. Laughing Cow cheese. Shredded mozzarella. Apricot preserves. Fig jam. Hummus. Four cans of diet coke. Lots of Asian sauces in bottles, plus soy sauce. Worcestershire sauce. Sesame oil. Milk. Lemonade. Insulin.

Tomorrow, I tackle the freezer. I’ve had a peek, and I wonder: Why do we have only half a box of Trader Joe’s mini cheese soufflé, and how old is that piece of salmon?

Same array of discarded food, real (unpretty) version

Update, Saturday 12/30: Cleaned the freezer. Not as much waste as in the refrigerator. We do seem to buy more Morningstar vegetarian “meat” products than we end up eating; I threw some opened packages out due to a surplus of ice crystals on the bare fakin’ bacon etc. We also have three pounds of ground meat (two of turkey, one of beef) that are still viable, as well as bags of frozen corn and frozen steak fries. I can see at least two snow day meals right there.

Note: This post features one of the last ToonCamera images I’ll use. My daughter Lydia says “they’re ugly,” and, acknowledging that she may be right, I won’t use them in 2012, and I’ll try to simply take or find interesting, real photos.

6 thoughts on “This is obscene, and yet instructive

  1. Living alone just makes it worse! It’s impossible to buy single servings of fresh vegetables, and while I have a friend over for dinner multiple times a week, buying only enough bok choy for two plus a meal of leftovers is fairly difficult without attacking the wire-wrap in the store (and attracting attention from store personnel) — sigh.

  2. Perhaps you should have a dinner *party* when serving bok choy. 🙂

    In our grocery store, there are a few things we can buy open and in small quantities: green beans, carrots, peppers, and snow peas. Not so easy with cauliflower, celery, cabbage, etc.

  3. Hi, Jane! Throw the rest of that knob of ginger into a baggie and then straight into the freezer. No peeling necessary. Almost as good as fresh whenever you need it next time. Cleaning out the frig is a great way to get started fresh on a new year. Hope yours is happy and healthy.

  4. Helen, thanks for the advice! Will buy more ginger and freeze it according to your suggestion.

    Coincidentally, I was thinking about you this week. Reflecting on my years in development, and especially in donor research, I started wondering: What ever happened to DIALOG? And who would know? And then I thought: Helen would know.

    I hope all is well in your neighborhood too. Happy New Year!

  5. I love this! Two of my favorite things to read about are food and really ordinary things. I also kinda love reading about other people’s food waste, because I am always trying to cut down on this myself, but am forever in a battle with myself between buying the right amount and trying to have stuff on hand for fixing something new (which never happens, and don’t suggest making weekly menus — I can only say I won’t do it). I like that you and the celebrities both have some form of fig in the fridge. And for what it’s worth, I like the toon pictures.

  6. K, I think of you sometimes when reading or writing about the absolutely “really ordinary things.” I know we share a fondness for them. I’m glad you liked reading about my fridge cleaning. Perhaps this week I’ll also write about my house mouse-proofing, which I plan to tackle this week.

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