It was a bit difficult to track the Eating Down The Fridge challenge back to its origins, but the flurry of internet stories and blog posts on this topic seem to have started here, with Steven Shaw at eGullet. The concept is straightforward enough: Don’t go to the store for a week. Instead, use up the contents of your fridge. Get creative with those leftovers if necessary, but don’t let them go to waste. The underlying message is also a simple one: Most of us buy things we never end up eating, and we can change that.
I liked the idea and enjoyed reading the stories and comments about how the EDTF week unfolded for people. Not only food, but time and money were saved. Some people were concerned about the “rules”. Does buying fresh milk count as cheating? Is it fair to do a big shop first? Others pointed out that they ate down the contents of their fridge weekly by necessity, not as a game.
For myself, however, I doubted that this would be a meaningful exercise. I already enjoy whipping up a new dish from whatever is on hand. I shop for fresh items every week or two and cook what I buy. And I cultivate a certain Zen aesthetic in my refrigerator anyway—lots of empty space. The difference between my fridge empty, on a Saturday morning,
and full, after I go shopping, usually boils down to a couple of yogurts, some cheese, and two drawers full of produce. And yes, all of it will be gone by the next weekend.
My freezer is slightly less barren, but still only contains ice cubes, a loaf of bread, and enough meat and fish for a couple weeks worth of dinners.
As for my cupboards, I do keep a lot of staple items on hand. I don’t necessarily see the value of using up all of the rice, beans, quinoa, canned tomatoes, cumin, or vodka before I go to the store again. However, with EDTF on my mind, I decided to take a closer look to see what was there.
And oh, the shame that awaited me! I really hate wasting food. To my mind, it not only means that I’m throwing money away, but more importantly, it feels disrespectful to the hungry. I started pulling expired items off the shelves. Cream of Wheat, pasta, crackers, oatmeal, pancake mix. A lot of items had to go straight in the trash. Then there were the nearly expired items: soups, Gatorade, tuna, cocoa. Those I whisked off to the Saint Vincent de Paul food pantry, where they will get distributed and eaten before they expire. By the time I was done, my cupboard was definitely barer, and I was feeling humbled.
I noticed that the unused items fell into a few distinct categories:
1. Sick-day food. I hardly ever get sick enough to stay home from work, but living alone, I like to keep a stash of sick-day food, just in case. I find it reassuring to know that if I do get sick, I can take care of myself without a trip to the store. Thus, I keep a stash of soup, crackers, ginger ale, Gatorade, applesauce, etc. These items rarely get used, and as long as I remember to donate them and replenish my supply periodically, I’m satisfied with that.
2. Snow-day food. Actually, it hardly ever snows enough for me to stay home from work, either. But when I am snowed in, there are a two essential items: cocoa and rum. The rum lasts indefinitely, but the cocoa needs to be rotated out periodically along with the sick-day food because I never drink it unless snow is falling.
3. Comfort food, Not Otherwise Specified. While cleaning out my cupboards, I realized that I keep a bunch of foodstuffs on hand for those extremely rare occasions when I want specific comfort foods without the hassle of putting on clothes and driving to the store. Pancake mix, cream of wheat, oatmeal, and cranberry juice (for cosmos, of course) all fall into this category. The problem is that I open the box, use the contents once, and the rest goes to waste. So maybe I really don’t need to buy cream of wheat, if the trade-off for that one bowl is throwing the rest of the box away. But I do need the cranberry juice!
4. Food that no longer fits my lifestyle. As I took massive quantities of elbow macaroni, broad egg noodles, and creamed soups out of the cupboards, I remembered how I used to cook gigantic casseroles, back in a former life when I had at least one and often two insatiable men to feed at every meal. Those days are long past, and the bulk container of elbow macaroni had been quietly moldering away for years like Miss Havisham’s wedding cake by the time it went in the trash.
So now I’m ready for a fresh start. I’ve got grains and legumes aplenty, meat in the freezer, two drawers full of produce, yogurt and cheese. I won’t be going to the grocery store for a while.
What do you think? Would a week of Eating Down The Fridge be useful to you? Why or why not?