UNITED STATES—I totally get it when a friend said after attending a big wedding back east, lots of family and drink, “I’m in detox mode.”
I get it. Travel this summer has taken its toll and severely tested my easygoing live-and-let-eat philosophy.
I was at the mercy of roadside convenience stores in a dozen states. At one point I was trapped for 43 hours on a train without a vegetable or fresh thing on board. I think I turned the bend when somebody among my travel mates had three doughnuts. I’ve gone from passive to radioactive when it comes to my eating preferences.
Go ahead, tar me a hypocrite. For years, from the time I was a teen I was doughnut king, before Starbucks and before America discovered croissants. The doughnuts shop was my café; crown me with a French crueler. Then, as I became more aware of what I was eating, I gave them up.
At the place I go for worship, they offer coffee and doughnuts in the patio. This last week I finally just said no. Turned my back on the fellowship and didn’t have to hear anybody say, “You’re skinny. You can take a doughnut.” Nor did I volunteer for the hopeful exercise in ascertaining if somebody had brought grapes or pineapple pieces and go through the charade of choosing fruit over doughnuts.
There was one side effect of foregoing the after-church doughnut: I wouldn’t be taking a doughnut home to my daughter. I used to feel good about it because she likes doughnuts a lot. Now I realize I am feeding not so good a thing, and will seek new ways of making my daughter smile.
So to get back to my refrigerator. There are things I don’t like so much. I mainly keep milk for my daughter, and that milk begets a thing called cereal, which ceased to make financial or nutritional sense for me, even in my doughnut days. I wonder what my travel mates thought of refrigerator without milk or salad dressing (I make my own), when they visited my house.
All I can say is the empty refrigerator works for me. I like vegetables. When the fridge is near bare, I know the veggies are fresh, limited to what’s on hand from two days ago. I get to go shopping daily, which I enjoy. In a near-empty fridge I know that the options are limited and can yet combine amazingly into some new dish, like the time I discovered I could make a hard-boiled egg inside the same pot as steaming vegetables.
Too many vegetables often rot in the fridge they are consumed. A 2002 USDA study estimated that American families throw out an average 15 pounds of fruit and vegetables every month. When I have my fingers on the pulse of what’s on hand, it leads to much more gratitude and good use of what we have. I’ll be honest, I even have a container for unused veggies that go in the next day’s soup or salad; that’s how much I value veggies and fruits.
What’s more, when I open this austere refrigerator, there is usually an item I completely forgot about. Which both surprises me and keeps me from going into auto-shop mode and getting something at the store I didn’t need.
My fellow travelers left cheese in my refrigerator, and a lot of other fine things like beer and tortillas. In my way of living there’s a place for everything with moderation. Yet, I often find that to be with folks who are moderate by American standards is still to be swept up in a tidal wave of consumption. It makes me want things I don’t usually want. There’s the meat, drink and pizza on the daily. I look forward to when people will feel foolish about offering pizza. Pizza is not evil; it has its place once every leap year or when you make it from scratch.
All the gifts left behind in my refrigerator, including a marvelous bottle of olive oil, are being exhausted with moderation and pleasure. The fridge is getting back to its lean self. There is one egg, a chunk of Parmesan, half an avocado, onion, celery and bacon strips, a souvenir of our travels. The Frigidaire is looking like normal. I must admit, having the cans of beer around has reignited a fondness for beer around the cocktail hour.
Hey, we’ve got to live with each other and try to please each other. But that jar of mayonnaise I got for the kid, who likes to mix it in the tuna fish—I think I’m going to return it to the store and use the refund to buy a cigar. Yes, happiness is an empty refrigerator, and on hot days like the ones we’ve been having, there’s room left to crawl inside.
Grady Miller’s “Lighten Up Now” is a diet for the mind and body, available on Amazon.com, along with “Late Bloomer,” his Hollywood humor collection. Grady Miller can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.