November is a big month in the LB household. We start by waking up on the first day of the month with garishly overflowing buckets of candy from Halloween. Ugh (I say as I secretly pull my favorites when no one’s looking). Then, we have a kid birthday party that weekend. Cupcake city.
One short week later, yours truly has her own birthday. (Please, it’s okay that you forgot. You can make it up to me with a bottle of wine or three. I won’t hold it against you.) This year, my birthday brought me: 1) cupcakes at home, followed by 2) cupcakes and cookies at work, followed by 3) a delicious homemade layer cake, followed by 4) a classic Carvel ice cream cake.
It’s almost like these people know me or something. If you’ve been following my blog and/or twitter feed at all, you might have gotten a hint of the fact that I love food. I mean, I really love food. I particularly love indulgent, decadent, intensely flavored food. If the food item doesn’t actually have MSG in it, I want it to taste like it does. (Never pretended to be a nutrition expert, people.)
But even I was overwhelmed by how much dessert I suddenly had in my kitchen. And I felt obligated, somehow driven by a power larger than myself, to make sure that none of it went to waste. Not only because it was all DELICIOUS, but because the idea of throwing out perfectly good food nags at me on a deep, existential level. It pretty much never feels okay. But it feels even less okay when we’re talking about the good stuff.
I had to get strategic.
First, the cupcakes and cookies went back to work and were distributed to others willing to share the burden. The layer cake was tackled in bits and pieces – a slice after dinner here, a piece hastily crammed in my mouth in lieu of actual lunch there. But all the while, I knew that the ice cream cake would be waiting for me.
Today was the day. All the other desserts were finally gone. It was just me and the ice cream cake. I put the kids to bed, poured a glass of wine and headed to the freezer.
No ice cream cake.
I searched through that tiny, cold box at least seventy-two times (I lost count – but it may have actually been three). Eventually I sent a faux-chill text to the husband, casually inquiring as to the whereabouts of the ice cream cake. The response: “Oops. I threw it out.”
Did you know that Americans throw away 40% of our food? That’s an absolutely obscene amount of potential nutrition, going straight into the trash every day.
We health care providers feed into this epidemic of waste. Our patient advice is often fueled by our fear of the unknown. If we can’t be absolutely certain the thing you’re thinking of doing won’t harm you, we feel compelled to advise unequivocally against it. When it comes to questionable-food-related advice, this usually becomes “Just toss it. Better safe than sorry.” But at what point is this nebulous concept of “safety” outweighed by abject wastefulness?
Today I had to distribute the overpriced goods from my kid’s school fundraiser. My coworker – let’s call him Dr. Snarky – had purchased a cheesecake. This cheesecake, like all the other frozen goods from the fundraiser, had spent a couple of hours in the school gym (in mid November, mind you – not exactly swelteringly hot) waiting to be picked up before being transferred back into each family’s home freezer. Throughout it all, the box remained refreshingly cool to touch. I swear.
Making conversation, as one does, I tell him a little about the journey his cheesecake took to get to him. He looks at me and, in all seriousness, says, “You don’t think I’m actually going to eat that, do you?”
Blink. Pause. Why yes, yes I do.
As I ate a slice of Dr. Snarky’s abandoned cheesecake at my desk, I wondered: am I too lax with food safety? Am I putting my health, and the health of others, at risk by eating and/or serving food that’s past its prime?
But then I thought about the criteria I tend to use to determine which mystery foods remain edible in our kitchen. If I don’t see anything growing on it, and it passes the sniff test, we’re good to go. (I actually think the sniff test gets undervalued. Isn’t this why we developed a sense of smell, and an inborn aversion to particularly nasty smells, as a species? Ancient pre-homo sapiens who couldn’t tell that their old meatloaf had started to develop its own ecosystem of novel life forms died out; their friends, the ones with the big useful noses and refined palettes, survived.)
Back to my ice cream cake. I’m sitting there with my poor unaccompanied glass of wine when I get another text message. It turns out that the ice cream cake is still in a Tupperware container inside the trash bag, waiting on the curb for tomorrow morning’s pickup. Sealed; safe. But probably mostly melted. And INSIDE A TRASH BAG. If I really want it.
Ten minutes later, I’m eating a bowl full of melty but otherwise perfect ice cream-ish cake-ish decadence. I’m undecided at first whether this marks a high point or a low point for my life up until now.
But you know what? In the end, today was a day in which both lunch and dinner were followed by dessert. This was a good day. And if I’d decided to get all prissy about it, I’d have had neither.
So at this moment, on this night, I can say comfortably I have no regrets. And as long as I don’t wake up tomorrow in abdominal distress, I’m sticking with my answer.