A Heart of Eggs, Food Waste, and “Mum, My Friends Think It’s Funny…”

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.

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15 thoughts on “A Heart of Eggs, Food Waste, and “Mum, My Friends Think It’s Funny…”

  1. Oooh…you were talking in “classier all caps,” per Rita’s latest post. 🙂 That must have been a nice moment to have, realizing that your son understood and agreed with you, in the midst of your recent parenting struggles with him.

    I am also down with the goal of reducing food waste, and am totally inspired by your effort to actively choose what others leave behind. Yes, yes, yes. It also strikes me that this sort of attitude is what’s behind my tendency to want to “rescue” things at the thrift store…lately I realize that a lot of those rescued items actually just become clutter, so perhaps it would be better if I indulged this proclivity of mine at the grocery store instead!

    I would love to read more about your tips and strategies for avoiding food waste. I do make some efforts in that area but am still learning, still imperfect. So I’d be very grateful to read your expertise.

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    1. Oho! I DID manage to keep that exchange with my son “classy” 🙂 . And it DID feel like a real win! That was such a funny bit in Rita’s post, but in all seriousness, now that I stop to think about it, things have been going much better with my son, and it probably is due to the fact that I’ve been making a very concerted effort to keep my tone even and to not over-react … I think we may be onto something with this whole classiness thing 😉 .

      Yes, “rescuing” things is a great way to think about all this! I can half relate to your thrift store problem: while I do have to fight the urge to rescue all the perfectly-good-things I see set out for the garbage trucks on large pick-up day, I actually really dislike most forms of shopping (with the exception of groceries, which I enjoy), which means I hardly ever wander into thrift stores, which of course means I’m never tempted …

      Oh, and now you’ve got me nervous … I’ve definitely made strides in the past few years to cut back on food waste, but I’m still imperfect too. I hope whatever I have to share isn’t stuff you already know — there is quite a lot of information out there already 😦

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      1. Given experiences the last year with my own teenage son, I’d have to say that a quieter tone and fewer words makes a huge difference. Not sure that it’s really classier (or that classy matters–I was mostly being a smart aleck in that line I tossed off), but better relationships sure do.

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      2. I suspected the whole “classier all caps” was tossed off in a bit of a smart alecky manner, but I actually thought it was a brilliant bit of word play 🙂 . I absolutely know you didn’t mean classy in the sense of highfalutin (in other words, still yelling, but minus the swearing and with a few big words thrown in). I took the phrase to mean quietly and yet firmly getting your point across, and standing your ground without stooping to insults or back-handed comments.

        And YES! — fewer words have made a huge difference with my son! It’s funny – I’ve always been aware of the whole “know when to hold your tongue” thing in my relationship with my husband (not because I’m trying to be a subservient wife, but because I saw first hand with my parents’ marriage what nagging can do to a relationship), but I haven’t always known when to hold my tongue with my children. It’s not always an easy thing to do, to keep quiet, but it’s probably the best thing I can be doing right now.

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  2. I was thinking this today as I was at the grocery store picking my produce. We purchased some apples from an orchard the other day and they have been so tasty and delicious but not nearly as pretty as the ones at the grocery store that look so pretty but taste so bland. It makes me sad to think we live in a society where even the appearance of our food is more important than the quality, but I really think we do.

    Side note: Food waste has been a reoccurring topic lately – I almost feel as if the universe is trying to tell me something.

    Also, I know I’ve mentioned it before but with the topic of food, I feel the need to recommend the book “Ishmael” by Daniel Quinn. It talks more from a food scarcity stand point but I found it extremely interesting and I think the environmentalist in you would like it.

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    1. I agree, Kate: the emphasis on appearance in our society — with food, but also with just about everything else — is something I find extremely sad. I could write on and on about the non-food stuff (I won’t, but oh my, I could)…but with regards to food only, I find it so maddening that perfectly good food goes to waste simply because it’s the wrong size and/or shape. Additionally, I get really upset about companies throwing dye into food — even regular non-candy food you wouldn’t expect to have added dyes! — all for appearances! Aaarrgghh, it’s just not right, and unsuspecting parents are feeding this stuff to their kids!

      I definitely do have Ishmael on my list! I’m currently about 3/4s through The Occupied Garden, and the Dutch population is going hungry. It’s difficult to read, but is re-emphasizing the importance of not taking food for granted…

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  3. My middle son is allergic to nuts. My husband and I will occasionally have a lunch date outdoors at his office, where he stashes a jar of peanut butter at the office and I show up with apples and loaf of bread, and we gorge on peanut butter sandwiches…and then we both scrub our hands and faces approaching the level of a Silkwood shower in the Panera bathroom before going home.

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    1. Oh, this made me laugh out loud, Lisa! When we found out our son was allergic to eggs, the first and uppermost concern was obviously HIM: his safety, and how this would affect his life. But I have to admit there was also just a slight edge of sadness: for me, and for our daughter, who also, even at the age of three, loved eggs. Our daughter is now off to university, living in a house this year, and cooking her own meals, and is VERY POINTEDLY making eggs 🙂

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  4. I so love coming here–it’s like all my favorite friends hang out here. 🙂

    Food waste is something that niggles at me. Our picky eaters have no problem wasting food, especially if it has even the tiniest of blemishes. It bothers me how often food goes to waste here not because of perceived imperfections, but because of my own lack of planning and/or the way our life gets in the way of my plans. I’ve been focusing more on social issues connected to clothing, though, which is on my list of things to write about soon.

    In the meantime, just want to say that I’m glad “egging” is done in such a nicer way where you live. (And what the heck is done when one is “cheesed”?) In our neck of the woods, the eggs get thrown against the house. Happened to me once when raising my first husband’s children. Did I feel bitter cleaning that mess? I sure did! And I love the idea that they put them in the shape of a heart, and on your anniversary! I would consider it a gift from the gods of…something. (Hey, if you can indulge in a belief in reincarnation when it suits you, you can do the same with benevolent gods, right?)

    Happy anniversary, and happy Getting Better with Your Teenage Son. 🙂

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    1. Big smile at paragraph one — thank you, Rita 🙂

      I know what you mean about lack of planning and life getting in the way…this summer I felt so discombobulated … kids and husband running everywhere … and the result was that more heads of broccoli than I should admit to ended up going into the compost 😦 . No one’s perfect, and we’re all trying to do more than sometimes seems humanly possible…

      I was very glad that the egging was not done in the thrown-against-the-house manner!! The house of a good friend of mine was egged, and oh. my. gosh. that is SO hard to clean up 😦 . I’m not absolutely 100% on the “cheesing”. I took it to mean they took bags of shredded cheese and sprinkled it all over the lawn, but I suppose they could have sprayed string cheese everywhere? (I think we got lucky, both with the clean-up and with the fact that the eggs were actually a bit of a gift horse; there would have been no “rescuing” that cheese 😉 ). (I’m going to find out for sure what the “cheesing” entailed, and I’ll let you know!).

      I too, LOVED that my son’s friends put the eggs into the shape of a heart. Once I got the eggs taken care of, and the cartons, which had ants crawling all over them (an egg must have broken?), and the forks … the whole incident then kinda sorta melted MY heart, even though I knew it wasn’t anything to do with me; it made me think he’s actually got some very nice friends (minus all the “usual” concerns one nearly always has about teenaged friends, of course), which was a really nice thought to hold inside me on our anniversary. And yes, I am a bit of a sucker for serendipitous coincidences, which this absolutely was. I could even be persuaded to say it was a gift from benevolent gods (who have very good senses of humour), although I wouldn’t REALLY believe it 😉 . At any rate, I love that we have this lovely layer of a funny story to remember our 25th anniversary by 🙂 .

      And thank you for the anniversary wishes, Rita, and I hope you too are Getting Better with Your Teenage Son 🙂 .

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    2. Lack of planning and/or life gets in the way often leads to food waste for me too, Rita. I’ve recently begun to suspect that part of the solution may be…less planning. That is, I used to make these ambitious week-long meal plans, and inevitably something would come up, we would be too busy or too tired to cook and order takeout or something, and then the produce I bought for that dinner would end up going to waste. Or we would have more leftovers than anticipated and the leftovers would go to waste. So now, when I make my weekly meal plan I just plan 6 days instead of 7, and label one day as “tbd/leftovers.” It made me nervous at first to do that but we have not yet gone hungry. 🙂

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  5. Wow, what a mysterious artifact! Great story. What did you do with the forks??

    I’m also a food-waste-avoider. I remember as a young child often leaving food unfinished but seeing that my parents would eat some of it as they cleared the table and that the rest went into the cat’s dish (meat or dairy) or compost (everything else)…and that led me to notice that when I left food on my tray at school, the lunchlady scraped it into the garbage can. I still couldn’t bring myself to eat everything served in school lunch (ewww) but I was aware of the waste.

    Recently I was hurt in a car accident, and then my partner finally started the lead-paint removal that really needed to be done last year, and I was so glad he was getting to it that I could accept the week of home disruption and his being unavailable to cook dinner…but that paint is a zillion times tougher than expected, so we’re now in the *third* week of the project (“Almost done!” he says) and the kids and I spent last week living in a hotel, and I’ve just this week begun regaining the ability to cook without making the kind of crazy mistakes one would expect from a concussion victim, and meanwhile we’ve been receiving our CSA farm share…so this has led to some food waste. Sigh! I composted two full heads of cabbage, two halves of onions (Who cut open the second one when we already had one started??), several apples, several tomatoes, the bad spots which totaled about 2/3 of the mass of two red peppers, and a big bag of slime that I think was once parsley.

    But I’m comforting myself with the idea that this is a rare lapse of competency for good reasons. It’s not like we live this way all the time! And I have been eating either an apple or a tomato in my breakfast about 90% of days, even in the hotel–I brought some with me.

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    1. Thanks ‘Becca!

      I read your latest post early this morning and was planning on heading over to your site tonight to leave a comment. I was so sorry to hear about your car accident, and everything you’ve been going through since, and I wanted to wish you all the best for a full and speedy recovery. It’s so hard to be injured or sick or in pain when you’ve got young children … sending lots of positive thoughts your way.

      Regarding food waste – I do think it’s a really important issue to be aware of, and we should all try to do our best, but life happens … and I would say that between the concussion and the lead-paint removal and the living in a hotel you definitely need to cut yourself some slack in this area right now!

      The forks 🙂 – I washed them really well, and then bundled them with an elastic and gave them to Goodwill. I do hope they wouldn’t have discarded them; we never use plastic forks, so I didn’t feel the need to keep them, but I didn’t want to throw them into the garbage either.

      Take care, ‘Becca.

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