Saturday, February 18, 2006

The "Ick" Factor

I think I need to add a new sub-category in Quicken, called something like "Dining: Wasteful Squeamishness."
I probably inherited this from my mother-- some kind of mental block about consuming food that is in any way questionable. Last night, I was on an Amtrak train and it turned out that they were out of the cheese and cracker plate that is my usual snack (to supplement an apple, some nuts, and a bottle of water brought from home). So in a discombobulated moment, I ordered a tuna sandwich. A tuna sandwich on Amtrak? What was I thinking? It turned out to be served on "molasses bread" with "cheddar cheese." I made the mistake of thinking it might be better with the cheese removed, but that meant that I opened up the sandwich and actually looked at the tuna and what seemed to be a decomposing slab of cheese from the approximate era of Tutankhamun-- ugh. I took a teeny bite and couldn't eat any more. $6.50 down the drain.

Other frequent food waste:
Milk-- I never seem to go through even small cartons fast enough, and if it has the vaguest whiff of un-freshness about it, down the drain it goes.
Freezer items-- with all good intentions, I froze some extra fish one night. A couple of months later, I decided to thaw it out for dinner, but by the time I unwrapped the fish and saw it looking kind of icy and smelling, well, like fish, I just couldn't imagine eating it.
Bread-- again, as a household of one, I rarely get through an entire loaf of bread fast enough to keep it from going stale or moldy.

There are many other examples. It's a Catch-22 when you're a single person-- you either have to buy smaller sizes that raise your cost, or you buy larger sizes that end up going to waste. And aside from the personal finance consequences, there's always that ingrained voice from childhood, telling me that I have to finish my dinner because of the starving children in Cambodia, not to mention dessert.


Anonymous said...

I think I'd rather go hungry than buy any food on Amtrak. Bread freezes really well and you can even peel/snap slices off one at a time. Never tried freezing raw fish. All freezing requires some finesse for the food to be good when defrosted. Biggest thing is to get all the air out - either wrap in plastic wrap first or foil then in another wrap. Also, as a single or, like us just 2, don't let things sit in the freezer for more than 4-6 weeks. Food quality does deteriorate. Oh yes, let food defrost without unwrapping.
It's better for quality and you don't have to look at icy things.

Caitlin said...

That amtrak food experience just sounds plain yucky. Cutting your losses sounds like the right choice.

I also agree that frozen fish is sort of dicey...flash frozen (via Trader Joes) seems to do ok for short periods, but I think giving up on freezing your own fish is a sound choice as well :)

But milk and bread...maybe there's room there (and these are probably the cheapest items, but it certainly doesn't feel good to throw out food even if it WAS cheap, right?)

Milk: The mouths of cartons (paper or plastic) ALWAYS start smelling funky way before there is any problem with the milk. And of course, that is what we are smelling when we "sniff" the milk for freshness. I wonder if investing in a smallish glass milk container might solve this problem and allow youto get to the end of a small amount of milk? (like this one?) or even mixing up dry milk as you need it?

And bread, I'm with Anonymous...we have had to switch to this for the two of us since we couldn't reliably get through a loaf in time esp in summer. We now typically freeze half a loaf, sliced. Wrap in plastic wrap, then in aluminum foil. Label with date. Defrost all at once or couple of slices at a time. This has been saving us many a loaf :)

For years we were horrible at "freezer management" -- tons of ruined food, but even over the last few months it's been a 180 turn. Keys have been to wrap tightly (plastic, then foil etc) and since we are meal planning...we are more aware of what's in the freezer at all times.

Just some thoughts on what has helped us...because I TOTALLY identify :)

mapgirl said...

Never freeze fish at home. Trust me. No matter how fresh it is, the texture is kind of funny. I ate a lot of home frozen fish as kid because my dad liked to go fishing with his friends and bring back 55gal ice chests full of mackerel.

I waste food all the time. I have given up completely on food in the past month and I only keep orange juice and frozen food in the fridge right now. I am queen of the rotten salad mix bags that remain unopened. I don't know why I bother.

I am lactose intolerant so I tend to drink rice or soy milk, but those really only last a week, just like regular milk. Even though it's more expensive per ounce, sometimes I get the drink box portion sizes to cut down on food waste.

I dine out a lot. I only justify it by not buying groceries, or very few of them. This is going to inspire a food analysis post someday. I can feel it.

Anonymous said...

I used to always end up tossing half full cartons of milk because of the "ick" factor. Then I discovered "ultra pasturized" milk. I haven't thrown any out since. The one I have now has an expiration date in late March and it will be gone by then....and it passes the sniff test every time.

SMB said...

I freeze loaves of bread. We usually go through a loaf before it gets moldy, but if I'm buying a special loaf for me (J doesn't like really grainy breads) I usually freeze half.

I've frozen milk too. It's worked out pretty well, except for the time I tried to freeze a glass container of milk--it cracked and made a yellowy frozen mess in the freezer! It didn't even occur to me that it might not have had enough headroom. I assume that was the problem, anyway.

optioned unarmed said...

I know the concept you are really addressing here is minimizing waste, but (for those inevitable wasteful times) do you have any composting options nearby (aside from doing your own composting, which takes some dedication)? I knew someone who kept their old food (mostly veggies and grains) in a big tupperware and once a week they would take it the compost bin at a nearby community garden. It turns back into soil and becomes useful again, rather than just sitting in a landfill. I'm not sure how big the community-gardens thang is in Brooklyn.

Anonymous said...

Dry milk saved me when I was single. I could mix it up a tiny bit at a time. I would mix up the amount I figured I'd be using the next day before I went to bed. Could tell no difference. We still use only dry milk. I switched without telling my husband and he did not notice!

Anonymous said...

Have you tried soy milk? It keeps much longer than cow's milk. It also is a bit sweeter than cow's milk.