I noticed by accident; I was just cleaning off a particularly yukky blotch on one of the shelves in the refrigerator and had to shift a few things to make room for the sponge.
As I twisted the portly plastic bottle of mustard around, I saw the tiny date stamped on the side: “Best by 10/20”. Wow. How long have we been cooling this mustard? It must have been years…I didn’t know it could expire.
I was shocked. It was time to take a good look at all those bottles and boxes in my refrigerator. And, boy, was I in for a surprise.
I glanced over at mustard’s fraternal twin, the tall bottle of squeezable ketchup. It was half-empty, but I don’t remember the last time we used it.
“Use by 9/2020.”
What? When did I buy this? Wasn’t it just a few months ago? Apparently not.
I sat down my sponge and hunkered down in front of the open fridge. It was time to do a little inventory.
Now that we’re an older couple with eating routines that often consist of leftovers, frozen cuisine, and bagged take-out and delivery, I don’t remember having purchased any staples in quite a while.
We buy milk and babysit it until it expires. Then we buy more (may want cereal sometime). We buy cheese and watch it for color change or stiffening. And lunch meat is eaten for what we consider a safe time span; we arbitrarily decide when to toss it by feel and smell.
But most of the stuff in the fridge, especially on the door shelves, haven’t moved/changed/ been used much. You could probably take a pic of our fridge door at yearly intervals and see evidence of that.
I started there. I picked up bottles and jars, one by one, and spun them this way and that to find a stamped date. The blackberry jelly was half-empty. Who’s eating this? It was a bit crusty around the lid, but the date was 1/21. It could live here a few more months before we bought a new one.
One by one, I grabbed, twirled, and peered at tiny numbers on item after item. It seems most of them were no longer worthy of refrigeration.
It’s safe to say that the definition of “staples” has changed at our house. What items were once necessary items needed to prepare or flavor family meals have become place-fillers in our fridge. They prove we are still an eating couple…and reassure our grown children that we are not living on cat food.
I buy many things out of habit; feeding a family for decades engrains a shopping list in your brain. You must have items that stave off the “there’s nothing good in this house to eat” cry of growing kids.
But our children have their own refrigerators now. They are busy filling them with their favorite staples. They don’t need ours anymore.
I drag the trash can to the fridge and start clearing things out. It is cleansing and exciting to see shelf space surface; most have grainy rings that will be tough to erase.
When I’m finished, the fridge is an echo chamber and testament to the fact that we could just put a camping cooler in its place and have plenty of room for what we really eat.
But I will have to get new ketchup and mustard and jelly and the rest, just in case we need to host a family picnic or something. We have to justify the expense of this giant appliance.
And we have to convince our kids we’re not ready for the home yet. Maybe I’ll put a can of Fancy Feast in there, just to keep them on their toes.
Contact Robin at firstname.lastname@example.org