Tuesday, December 04, 2007


I've been eating turkey and mashed potatoes everyday for lunch since Thanksgiving.

I live for leftovers. That is the main reason why I wanted my family to come to our house this year--so that we would we have the pleasure of leftovers.

I need this. There is something deep within me that feels any meal I've cooked is a kind of failure if everything is not consumed.

Even before we had cleared the plates I was stripping the turkey carcass, leaving the choicest chunks of skin and meat on for soup. By the time we served tea, I had put the leftovers in the freezer. The crock pot was on the kitchen counter and filled with water, salt, a bay leaf, some carrots, a few onions. Desert was not even over before I had placed the carcass into the crock pot. The slow-cook process would transform it all into a steaming cauldron of soup overnight.

There is nothing quite like waking to the smell of home cooked soup in morning.

This is Thanksliving.

I bring the soup to work for lunch. I tell my workmates how I made the soup. Many of them are bewildered by the idea of making soup from a turkey carcass. I stand even more bewildered. I think to myself: How can you throw out a turkey carcass without using it?

And then I get angry.

I feel a sense of pride knowing that every single ounce of food from my thanksgiving meal was eaten, albeit slowly, over a period of weeks. I carry with me a sense of social responsibly knowing that even the bones were used for the preparation of another meal. No waste. Never.

Maybe this is part of my Native American heritage manifesting itself (my great grandmother was Cherokee), as they were known for using every part of the animals they hunted. Although I think it has more to do with the way I was raised.


During my childhood in the late 1970's and early 80's my father was in cancer remission. When he was originally diagnosed in 1976 at the age of 29, his doctors gave him a ten percent chance to live beyond one year. Feeling desperate, he agreed to take part in a study to test the effects of a new type of chemotherapy on terminal patients. During his sessions he received experimental, often massive doses of platinum-based drugs, which are now among the most widely used. While the drugs obliterated the cancer, they also obliterated his body, leaving him in a weakened state for the rest of his life.

In the early days of his remission my parents made sure that our house was a citadel of healthy, organic, and contaminate-free food as possible. I remember going to the food co-op with my mother, and the mornings when my father would dare me to join him in shot of bitter aloe-vera juice, his morning elixir. There were thousands of vitamin pills. All candy was made from carob, never chocolate. Sugar free peanut butter? Sugar free everything. Soy burgers instead of beef. Fruit leather. Organic toothpaste. Not any white bread to be seen. Anywhere. Never.

My parents' food attitude was very simple: everything was vital. Food was sacred. Nothing was ever wasted. Our fridge was often bare and lean, stocked with only the essentials. Inside were stacked weeks worth of leftovers in bags and bowls, on dishes and plates. We were always expected to eat all of our food. If I dallied too long at my bowl of soup, my mother would place an egg timer on the table, accompanied by the threat of an early bedtime.

They would take this ethic to the nth degree with other things as well, transforming it into an all consuming lifestyle of thrift. After lunch in school, I was expected to bring home the tin foil that my sandwich was wrapped in. My brown paper lunch bags were also expected to come home. If milk prices were high, we drank powdered milk.

Mom would write out our family's dinner menu three weeks in advance and post it on the refrigerator door. This always amused my friends, who would refuse to eat most of the things in our house.

In a way, this is the epitome of what is called the neurotic. Yet in a way, this is also Thanksliving. Everything is sacred. No waste. Never. Be thankful.


I hate wasting food. It runs against something so basic and primal within me. When I look into some people's refrigerator and see it stocked to the top with all sorts of food, I get offended knowing that most of it will spoil and be thrown out before it gets eaten.

When people come to eat at my house, I stack food on their plate and tell them to eat it or else they're never allowed to come over again.

If I haven't drunk all of the wine, I'll pour it into your glass. Or perhaps I'll just put the whole bottle on your plate instead.

Either way, there won't be anything wasted or leftover.

If there is, I'll know what I'm having for lunch tomorrow.


dsc said...

thank you for you refreshing sincerity.

I related in a personal contemporary manner

no such thing as coincidences

"Beshert is beshert"

jen said...

Very nice :)

My mum used to threaten me with an early bedtime when I was younger. while her back was turned, the dog and I would share my dinner. I'd eat a small bite, cringe, and drop a handful under the table. So it would go until my food was gone. I think she knew all along that I was doing that, as I stayed smaller than everyone else in my district, despite her large portion sizes, but she was never very good at doling out punishments.

My father also liked to serve obscenely large portions. Unfortunately he had no dog. He was a much better cook than mum, though, so I'd sit at the table for about an hour and slowly demolish the huge pile of food he'd give me with the help of my grandpa, who, as luck would have it, loved every food I hated :D

Anyways, these days, my boyfriend pretty much has to tell me to throw things away. I'll sit and eat something until it's gone, even if I'm beyond full. It's probably not healthy, but meh. To make up for my distaste for throwing things out, I just buy/prepare smaller portions...

Steve said...


I also have to eat until I am gut-busting full. This is a terrible habit of mine that is probably the reason why I can't fit into any of my old pants.

ULOF said...

We had the same childhood!! Right down to the health food, the supplements and the endless
recycling of foil (and empty dried bean bags) which encased those crazy sandwiches no one
would trade for.

My parents also believed in keeping months and months of food on-hand at all times. Fifty pound bags of rice, etc. I can't do that. It bothers me. I will force myself to eat ALL of the food in the house before going back to the market. You'd be amazed how creative you'll get!

Steve said...


Wow. You had to bring back your tinfoil too? I did't think anyone else ever had to go through that.

I can identify also with no one ever wanting to trade for your lunch. Mine were also reviled at school.

Would you want to trade for a liverwurst and mustard sandwich on pumpernickel bread in second grade? Or for egg salad on a rice cake?

Suzanne said...

This is great, Steve. I love your (and your parents') philosphy of Thanksliving. Of no waste. It's something I work on all the time. It's something I have to work on all the time. For the last year or so I've also taken comfort in a bare fridge and frugally stocked cabinets. I usually buy what I need for a day or two and make frequent trips to the market.

I get annoyed when people serve me big portions. That is, portions that are too big. I know I won't eat it all. I'm not what you would call a 'big' eater. I'm just a 'good' eater. I prefer homestyle serving. Bowls on the table and everyone takes what they need (want).

With wine it's a different story. I'll gladly take a bottle on my plate any day.

Steve said...


If you come over to eat I'll have a bottle of wine ready to put on your plate. If Seth comes too, I'll just pour it straight down his throat.

My mom is still super hardcore about it all.

When she comes to visit us, I've often caught her reading a book in a darkened room because she didn't want to turn on the electricity. There is something SO wrong about that.

She also finds a little corner in the kitchen to squirrel away and save a tea bag, 1 paper napkin, 1 paper plate, and a single set of plastic utensils that she reuses all week while at our house.


Seth said...


This blog brings me closer to understanding your eccentric relationship with food. It also makes me realize the devastation it must have caused when we would eat every last popsicle in your fridge.


Seth said...

Actually, not sorry.

How many times do you eat the entire contents of my kitchen, including the cups and plates?

Steve said...

Who are you kidding?

You, Scott and Ira never had anything worth eating in your fridge.

Unless you count congealed sesame oil and a bottle of Whole Foods organic lemon-ade from the late Jurassic period as "edible".

Now the times when we used to steal you father's pot are a different story...

btw, when is one of us going to write about pot?

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