My wife scowls whenever I pluck something off the supermarket shelf.
“Did you check the freshness date?” she asks.
She knows I never do. Those dates rarely make sense to me.
Milk? Sure. Eggs? Sure.
But they put them on everything. They print them on cans, stamp them on boxed cereals and even date Mac & Cheese.
You could eat Mac & Cheese out of King Tut’s tomb without feeling any ill effects.
But freshness is the law for my wife. She picks through vegetables, eyeballs meat and blocks the supermarket aisle to scrutinize the label on water softener salt.
At home, she is just as fanatic. I once watched her check the expiration date on a bottle of water. It was past due. so she chucked it.
That is what bothers me the most about those dates: throwing things away.
It seems everything must have a mortality date. Clothes go out of style. Cars are built to fall apart. Appliances break down. Even attitudes age. Everything must make way for the onslaught of the new.
I guess the reason I never got into the habit of checking expiration dates is that I never had to. I grew up in a large family where nothing went to waste. Our clothes came from our older siblings, which in turn came from older cousins (it is scary to ponder where the cousins got them), The same went for bicycles, baseball gloves and board-games.
Everything, absolutely everything, was handed down. If it could not be eaten, it never left the family.
Who knows? Most of that stuff is probably still in circulation.
But my wife was raised differently. Her family had only four kids and not nearly as many cousins, thus she does not understand how the world works. Which is strange because her father is like me. He grew up poor and never got into the habit of checking dates.
Once when we were making toast at his house, I went into the cupboard for preserves and I found what looked like a treat. Blackberry jam.
Of course, my wife had to ask, “Did you check the freshness date?”
“Yes,” I said. (I lied.)
“Gimme that,” she said.
She twisted the jar this way and that, until she found the expiration date then she almost fell over.
“This isn’t blackberry jam,” she said, “it is ten year old strawberry jam.”
That cured me. Now I check the dates on everything.