Changes · Family · Stewardship

Take What You Want, But Eat What You Take

I have been on many youth group retreats and mission trips with high schoolers from my church. One rule I’ve heard many times is, “Take what you want, but eat what you take.” This is an important thing to tell teenagers who are allowed to serve themselves from a buffet line. I have seen teenagers respond to a buffet as though they haven’t been fed in a month — and they load their plates with more than they can eat. I have seen plates mounded over with french fries and macaroni and cheese. The people at the end of the line may not have anything at all by the time they get to the line, or there is substantial food waste — and correlating excess cost to cook and serve food destined for the trash.

I have to say, I’m pretty good on a buffet line. I rarely have a problem eating what I put on my plate, and I don’t think I over serve myself because I have been at the end of the line and know what it is like to have little from which to choose.

But it is a different story when I go grocery shopping. For some reason, even if I make a list, I end up buying more than I can possibly eat in the interval between shopping trips — every single time. (But I won’t take all of the blame for this. My husband is as bad as I am at overbuying. One time I asked him to get me some dental floss, and he got 2 multi packs — I’m good on dental floss for a year or more.)

At this point, our pantry is beyond full. I can’t find shelf space to put anything else. I can’t even begin to clean it out because there is not enough space on the kitchen table to sort through all of what we have bought. For example, the 12 pound bag of black beans was a great deal when I bought it last spring at Sams — but even eating black beans every day in my salad at lunch, I’m only going through a cup of dried beans every week! It is going to be a year before I get through that bean purchase. And what was I thinking buying an 800 count box of stevia packets?? It has taken me a year and a half to use the 40 count box. But I was at Costco, and I had stevia on my shopping list, and it was super cheap at Costco — so it went into my cart.

“Take what you want, but eat what you take.” I will have to use 3 packets of stevia every day to use up that box before it reaches its ‘best by’ date. I definitely took more than I can possibly eat on that one.

It has become a problem and I have decided to stage an intervention for the two of us. For at least the month of February (and probably into March since I just bought rice at Costco….), we will buy no more shelf-stable food items until the pantry has been cleaned out. We will work on eating the fresh foods purposefully so that we limit our food waste, while also eating the stored up foods instead of buying more.

My motivation for my husband is that once we have cleaned out the pantry, I am going to help him redesign the pantry he has always hated, replacing the wire shelving with solid shelves, and to make it more like a butler’s pantry for dishes and appliances we rarely use. Since it is only the two of us at home most of the year, we should be able to use the smaller cabinets (that are also way too full) for our daily staples, making the kitchen flow more efficiently.

The rule “Take what you want, but eat what you take” is going to become my shopping mantra. I have been acting like those teenagers at the buffet line, buying far more food than I need or can even eat. I know economics and food distribution is far more complicated than a buffet line, but in small ways, I am taking up more than my share of the earth’s resources every time I throw away food that has gone bad or past its expiration date hiding in the far recesses of my cabinets, I am adding to the landfill in my community. This is not a good use of earth’s resources, and I need to make a change.

Does anyone else have this problem in their pantries?

If you want me, I’ll be drinking my tea — with stevia!

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