My family has a long-standing belief that food has the super-ability to last way beyond its expiration date. The numbers, dashes, and dates printed on the sides or caps of containers and boxes do not deter our forks, knives, and fingers from diving and scooping into ice cream or yogurt containers a few weeks past their prime. Thanksgiving and Christmas leftovers last for at least two weeks, birthday cake until it’s devoured. Driven either by Puritanical thrift, “temporary” blindness, or plain old laziness, my family’s collection of expired food is finely exhibited in our see-through fridge, a repository of cold-cuts tinted with mold.
Despite various valiant attempts in dousing the shelves in bleach, clearing out containers, and reinventing leftovers, there always seems to be some sort of extraterrestrial figure languishing in some dark corner of the fridge, waiting to pounce on some poor soul’s utensil or intestinal tract.
My grandma, Queen of the Recyclables and Fridge Collections, is renowned in my family for finding exotic-looking food items in the back of her fridge from the George ‘Dubya’ era. At the age of six, she won her town’s contest for the most recyclable goods collected for World War II. At the age of 76, she brings home every Sunday almost every recyclable thing possible from her church to ensure that it will actually be placed in the recycling bin. And also leftovers that get placed in and then lost in the depths of her fridge.
Needless to say, when I was in middle school, one of my favorite things was to rifle through her fridge to find the oldest comestible out of all of the recycled food items.
Pulling things left and right out of the fridge, I’d shout out “Hey Gram – this one’s from two months ago! And wow – this one’s from 1997!” The best find was discovered by my uncle who found a bottle of ketchup from the same year I was born. It was still bright red – but with a touch of puffy white spores blanketing the top. A veritable piece of work.
More recently though, my grandma has been making a more concerted effort in trying to eliminate fridge UFOs. She checks the fridge more frequently, stacks her yogurt in one section, and puts OJ on a separate shelf. Leftovers occasionally have labels on them. She’s even blanketed the outside of the fridge with a gallery of artist postcards, comic strips, pictures of family members, and the one letter that my brother John sent her from six summers of going to camp.
I can imagine her admonishing tones even now, “Khak – why are you writing about my dirty fridge and not about delicious delicacies?” Which is fair enough: why have I been writing all of this?
About a year ago, I stumbled upon an art project called “You Are What You Eat” in which the artist, Mark Menjivar, created a series of “portraits” of the contents of Americans’ refrigerators, thinking that maybe the adage “you are what you eat” would be reflected not necessarily by our physical appearances, but by the insides of our fridges and freezers.
In his artistic statement, Menjivar explains that “for three years I traveled around the country exploring food issues. The more time I spent speaking and listening to individual stories, the more I began to think about the foods we consume and the effects they have on us as individuals and communities. … My hope is that we will think deeply about how we care. How we care for our bodies. How we care for others. And how we care for the land.”
Intriguing. So I opened up my freezer, avoiding the fridge for the moment, to find two dozen bananas, a very frost-burned iced coffee, an assortment of chocolate chips, two authentic New Jersey bagels, some other varieties of frozen fruit, and a bag of ice. Turning this into a photograph a la Menjivar: “College Student-Athlete-Gourmande; Baltimore, MD; 3 roommates; Penchant for spontaneous stress-induced chocolate and carb consumption.”
I think it might have Grammy-fridge-hanging potential.