Dan Conradt: You don't waste food, even a rubbery pork chop
"Good, you're home!" Carla said as I walked in from the garage. "Supper is just about ready."
I could hear the carousel spinning in the microwave, and something smelled terrific.
"Great!" I said. "I'm starving."
Carla headed for the basement with a basket of dirty laundry, and Steven looked up from his iPod.
"We're having leftovers," he whispered in a tone that implied "You've been warned."
The microwave beeped to let us know that whatever was inside was now hot.
I heard the basement door close, and Carla came back up into the kitchen.
"We need to finish up some things," she explained as she used a pot holder to pull a steaming dish out of the microwave. "Help yourself."
The kitchen counter was covered with an assortment of Cool Whip containers, glass bowls and stuff wrapped in aluminum foil and Saran Wrap.
Steven stepped up to the counter and surveyed supper.
"I don't like leftovers," he said. "Can I make a chicken pot pie?"
"No, you can't," I said. "This is all good stuff. We're going to finish as much of it as we can so it doesn't go to waste."
Actually, a chicken pot pie sounded pretty good.
"What is all this?" he asked.
"A little bit of everything," I said. "Some macaroni and cheese … mashed potatoes … zucchini … a pork chop …"
He interrupted my inventory: "A pork chop? We haven't had pork chops for a month. That thing's an antique!"
"No, it's not … we had pork chops, like, three days ago."
"I'm not eating it!"
"Good!" I said. "I will." It was important to set a good example, so I speared the chop with a fork and dropped it onto my plate.
"Why do we have to have this for supper?" Steven asked.
"Because we don't waste food," I explained, making a puddle of Heinz 57 next to the chop.
"When I was a kid, we never threw food away. Grandma used to put meat and potatoes and tomatoes and stuff into 'leftover hot dish.' We looked forward to having it … it was awesome."
"Awesome" might have been too strong a word, but I was trying to make a point.
"Besides, I thought teenagers ate everything."
"We have our limits," Steven said, picking up a bowl that held a chunk of something reddish-brown.
"What is this?" he asked, poking it with his finger.
He handed me the bowl. I couldn't tell by looking, so I gave it the sniff test.
"It's either liver or cake."
We both declined.
I added a small pile of wilted lettuce to my plate, and topped it with the last squirt from a squeeze bottle of French dressing.
"Why don't we just give it to the cats?" Steven asked.
"The cats don't eat people-food," I explained. "I don't think they could digest it."
Steven picked up a glass bowl that held a piece of something surrounded by congealed gravy.
"I don't think I could digest it either," he said.
I added a handful of rubbery asparagus spears to my plate as Steven started to unwrap a wedge of something wrapped in aluminum foil.
"Hey! Pizza! When did we have pizza?"
Pizza is one of those rare foods that tastes as good as a leftover as it does when it's fresh; this one was covered with black olives, onions, green peppers, sausage and pepperoni.
I looked at my pork chop, then back at the pizza. My stomach growled.
"Uh … I think it was right after Easter."
He looked at me to see if I was kidding.
"Easter was six months ago."
"You're right," I said. "You better not eat that."
I reached for the pizza, but Steven turned away and shielded the plate with his body: "Mom stopped and got pizza when she came home from work a couple of nights ago," he suddenly remembered. "I'll have this."
Twenty minutes later, we had a sink full of empty leftover containers, and a lot more room in the refrigerator.
"That was really good," Steven said. "How was your pork chop?"
"Might have been the best pork chop ever," I said. Maybe not a lie, but definitely a gross exaggeration.
I was feeling virtuous as I washed the dishes; we could have added the lettuce and the asparagus to the compost pile, but it would have been wasting food. And that's something we try not to do … even if it means an occasional supper of leftovers.
But I also decided that we either needed to start eating everything the first time around, or make more of an effort to end up with leftover M&M's.