Man do I hate waste! It’s one of those things that make me insanely anxious, or just plain insane. Whenever I see waste my heart rate goes up, my hands turn clammy and I start swearing. Though I know I am causing my children untold psychological damage, I still insist that they clear their plates at every meal. I insist their friends clear their plates. I eat past the point of satiation just so I don’t have to suffer scraping any uneaten morsels into the bin. We are The House of Left-Overs. All food items must be consumed in my house as a collective effort to reduce our contributions to landfill.
I suppose, like so many of my neuroses, I can claim my fear of waste is an inherited trait. My mother threw out NOTHING. Long after my siblings and I grew up and moved out, she would continue to shop for a family of four, only to watch her groceries slowly decompose before she could work her way through them. Even before we left the nest, she would, giddy with the thrill of saving a few shekels, over-buy whenever her eyes caught glimpse of a sale sign. Two-for-one lettuces, as much as we loved salads, would transmute into a dark, soupy mess in the veg drawer of the fridge. My waste-not mother would give me merry hell if she caught me disposing of these rotten messes, so I would have to wait until she was away at work before mopping out the fridge, making room for fresh produce. I can vividly recall a time when I was berated for tossing a maggoty mango into the compost bucket. My mother fished it out, convinced it was still edible. And when my mother died and we set about clearing out her house, we discovered a treasure trove of stashed food items. Perhaps my favourites were the jars of fruit she had canned in a rare moment of domesticity some twenty years earlier, and better still, the tins of olives dating back to my youth.
My mother was a post-war baby and the daughter of survivors of the Russian Revolution. She was of a generation that had good reason to fear hunger. Whenever my grandmother would come to visit, the first thing she’d do was to take me to the local five and dime where she’d steal candy bars for me. “They’re good for you. They give you energy!” she would explain in her thick Russian accent. When she died, we discovered she’d been hoarding boxes of Matzoh and frozen lox (a bit of a family theme going on here). This gal was determined she would never face starvation again.
As a third generation worrier, my waste-not neurosis does not stop at food. I trail behind my husband turning off lights. I unplug all electric gadgets when not in use. I turn off the tap when I brush my teeth. We have a timer for the shower. I harangue my family mercilessly about their consumption of everything.
I’m the first to admit I have some serious control issues happening here. Lately, I’ve got the feeling that someone’s either trying to send me a message to chill out or drive me completely mad. Every tap in the house has started to leak. Every time I enter a room I discover the heat has been cranked up to tropical temperatures and nobody is even there to bask in it. Despite driving a conservative Honda Civic and owning a bus pass, we find ourselves frequenting the gas station far too often. And the list goes on. With a steady stream of visitors and playing host to international exchange students, I know I am fighting a losing battle trying to control how many natural resources we exploit in our household. Either I let go now and stop worrying, or I will lose my mind completely while alienating my cohabitants. Still, I would like it to be known that, when the proverbial hits the fan and we run out of everything, I did my very best to live frugally and conserve resources for the next generation.