I heard a good tip while we were in the throes of the shelter-in-place order a few months back: you know those things that you’ve been saving for a special occasion? Well, this is the time to use them! The olive oil that your friend brought you from Jerusalem? The final jar of peaches from last summer? Even that pen that you don’t want to run out of ink, or the pretty notebook with the nice paper?
I took that advice, because I know about myself that I do hold onto things for too long, waiting for the exact right circumstance to use them. I’m carrying it with me now too — I know that we are still far from returning to “normal.”
This spring, I kept a pound of asparagus in the fridge, wanting to hang onto the goodness for as long as possible and trying to decide what recipe to use with it. While I waited for the perfect time, the bunch got sad and fuzzy in the crisper drawer, and the best use was to send it to the compost pile. With each growing season, I re-learn that nothing lasts forever in the produce world, despite my best intentions.
Things can last longer, for sure — my freezer is overrun with chopped fruit, blanched vegetables, sauces, and single-serving leftovers wedged between the ice cream and ground beef. I hate to waste, thus I freeze.
But I need to remember: those items are to be used. I preserve food in good faith that it will be eaten and enjoyed later — not simply because I can’t bear to see a tomato go moldy. It’s good to put food away for the future, but it’s also good to eat now, while the eatin’s good.
There’s a principle in permaculture that says, “Produce no waste.” In this sense, the floppy asparagus and the slimy tomato aren’t wasted in the compost; they’re turned into a resource that enriches the soil. But another understanding of the principle identifies anything not put to use as waste. An excess of resources that go unused would qualify as waste.
Something in me cringes a bit at that last part. Is it wasteful to stock my freezer and basement with preserved foods? I suppose it would be, if I were stocking up only for the sake of stocking up. If I make and carry out a plan to use it wisely once the food is preserved, then I would argue no, it’s not. If I share my abundance with others, it’s not. If I save seeds in order to plant them next year, it’s not.
That simple tip taught me a lesson in holding onto things with an open hand, rather than gripping tightly. Embracing abundance, rather than fearing scarcity. Knowing that there will always be more — if not this season, then next.
Any time can be a special occasion if you let it.
Deborah Haak-Frost is grateful for every ray of sunshine that reaches her skin. She is the Caretaker for Community Engagement at GilChrist Retreat Center in Three Rivers, and volunteers with *culture is not optional, a Three Rivers-based community development organization.