Just over a month ago, on August 11th, we woke up to find this in our front yard:
Now, it just so happens that it wasn’t just any old day this vignette appeared on our lawn; it was our wedding anniversary.
And, it wasn’t just any old wedding anniversary; it was our 25th.
My reaction was — predictably — OH. MY. GOSH! WHO DID THIS?!
My husband denied all knowledge, and our daughter was also completely mystified. I considered the possibility that friends or family may have been the culprit(s), but we had told none of our Ontarian friends that the 11th was our 25th wedding anniversary, and our family lives over 3000 km away. The only possibilities left were our sons.
When they got out of bed, I called them out to the yard to show them, and tellingly, our 16 year-old got a funny look on his face. He didn’t say anything, though; he simply went inside, and it wasn’t until about an hour later that an explanation came:
“Yeah, Mom, this is actually nothing to do with you,” he said. For a moment he looked as though he was trying to let me down gently. “My friends did this. They egged and forked our lawn because you made me come in early last night. And R—, who also had to go home early? Their lawn got cheesed.”
I won’t lie; I was slightly let down that the eggy heart had absolutely nothing to do with our wedding anniversary. However, there’s no point in wallowing in self-pity when there’s a job to be done. I had 29 eggs to pick up.
(At this point you might be wondering why I didn’t send our son out to take care of the situation. You might be thinking: his friends, his eggs … And yes, I thought it too, but I didn’t want him clearing it away because he’s actually allergic to eggs. (I admit to churlishly thinking, don’t his friends know that?)).
So there I was, mid-morning, staring at the heart of eggs, trying to decide how to proceed. What to do with 29 eggs that have been lying out on the lawn all night? Should I toss them, or should I make use of them? Because of our son’s egg allergy, I don’t routinely bring eggs into the house; but the fact is, I LOVE eggs.
Because his friends had “kindly” left the empty cartons by the garage, I could see that the eggs weren’t set to expire for several weeks. The night hadn’t been overly hot, but wanting to be safe, I googled something along the lines of how long can eggs stay unrefrigerated? Reassured there wouldn’t be a food safety issue, I gathered them into a bowl, stuck them in the fridge, and set upon the task of eating 29 eggs, feeling rather happy that I hadn’t let them go to waste.
Leaving the tale of these specific eggs for the moment —
(Imagine, if you will, me in my kitchen, surreptitiously savouring them, one or two a day while our allergic son was out of the house, and then washing the dishes afterwards with sterile room-worthy technique).
— I have to admit that I’ve always been hyper-aware of food. Perhaps it was my parents’ war stories that made me this way, but then again perhaps not: aside from one rather poignant (and frightening) incident when my father responded with primal outrage to the one-and-only food fight my brother and I ever held, the issue of near-starvation wasn’t a constant refrain in our house. Rather, I feel like it’s something internal with me. I’ve always been a scraper of plates and an “Oh, there’s still a bit left there, let me get that…” kind of person. If reincarnation were a thing (and just to be absolutely clear, I don’t believe it is) then I was, once-upon-a-time, a starving peasant. Other people get “put under” by psychics and end up claiming to have been Cleopatra, but not me: I was a serf, toiling away in a field somewhere.
But even though I’ve always been very aware of food, the larger issue of global food waste wasn’t something I was aware of until a couple of years ago when I happened across Tristram Stuart’s TED talk:
This is a short (14 minute) video, and is well worth watching if you haven’t seen it already. And if you’d like more food for thought (pun intended; haha?) there’s also this documentary about food waste: Just Eat It, which you might be able to watch for free, online, here. (Hopefully it’s not restricted to Canadian viewers).
While I’ve been doing a fairly good job of not wasting food once it’s in our house, there’s one area in which I could use some improvement, and it’s an issue which was addressed in both the TED Talk and the documentary: we’re a picky species, prone to seeking out perfection, and unfortunately, I’m just as guilty of this as the next person.
One of my earliest and most distinct memories illustrates just that:
I was either six or nine years old and I was visiting my grandparents in The Netherlands. One day, I was sent out — on my own — to get some apples from the greengrocer. I was given a leather satchel (picture a large doctor’s bag) and a wallet with a handwritten note tucked inside. I made my way down the cobbled sidewalk, entered the greengrocer’s shop — where all of the fruits and vegetables were set out, on display, BEHIND the counter — and passed my note to the man, a strawberry-blond Dutchman I can still picture to this day. He smiled and said, “Ah, Mevrouw van G—‘s kleindochter!” and then proceeded to fill the order. I watched as he placed apples in a paper bag, and — 40-some years on! — can still remember my thoughts: Hey! Wait a minute! I should be choosing those apples! Not him! What if he gives me one with a bruise?
This quest for perfection is — if you watch Tristram Stuart’s TED talk — at the heart of a mind-boggling amount of food waste. And now that I’m conscious of it, I’m making it my mission to try to reduce the part I play in all this. I can’t do much to alter the stringent standards fruits and vegetables have to pass through in order to make it into the store in the first place, and I can’t change human nature on a large scale, but I can learn to relax my own perfectionist leanings.
Practically, this means I’m trying to stop sifting through the produce for the perfect pear, but rather, to simply take what I first touch, minor warts and all. It means I’m trying to fight the urge to reject an entire bag of apples simply because one has a bruise. It means I’m making myself ignore a few brown spots on a head of cauliflower, because I know those can simply be cut away. In other words, without sounding sanctimonious, I’m trying to actively choose what others may reject, so that less will end up going to the bin behind the store. But I admit it’s a hard thing to do, because it goes directly against my nature.
I’d like to talk more about food waste, and some practical things I do to avoid and/or minimize it (beyond being less choosy), but this post is getting way too long. So for now, I’ll return to the story of the eggy heart:
It was just about a week ago that I polished off the last of the eggs. My 16 year-old had watched, a few days earlier, as I took the bowl, with its much-diminished quantity of eggs, out of the fridge to rearrange the space for leftovers, and he said, “You know, my friends think it’s funny that you saved those eggs and have been eating them.”
I looked at him in silence for a long moment, one of those classic stretched-out spaces of time in which one has the luxury of toying with various responses. Do I use language my son will understand immediately, and tell him about the time Uncle Chris and I had a food fight and Opa “flipped shit”? Do I enlighten him with passages from the WWII books I’m reading now? Do I treat him to the ubiquitous and tired think-of-all-the-starving-children-in-Africa lecture? Do I take a different tack and enumerate the fossil fuels that were spent in the creation and transportation of those 29 eggs?
Deciding against all that, I simply said, quietly, “That’s over two dozen eggs; that’s a lot of food to waste.”
And in the silence that followed, in the expression and the eyes of our 16 year-old son, a young man who’s at times preternaturally socially and politically aware, I could see that he might just have had a glimpse of all that I had left unspoken, that he already knew all of it anyway, and — what-my-friends-think be damned — that he agreed with what I had done.