By 4:00 p.m. I was hungry. Dinner is later these days, we aren’t both home until about 7:00 p.m. But by later in the afternoon, even with a good lunch, I’m sure I will waste away without a snack. But it has to be healthy, too. I headed for the fridge for my usual snack–a red pepper. Sometimes it gets a dab of peanut butter, sometimes a smear of soft cheese. Other times, just plain. A sweet red pepper is a perfect thing.
As I reached into the crisper drawer, I noticed a wrinkled pepper, older, slowly exhaling its sweet aroma and crunchy texture in exchange for wrinkles shooting across its skin.
Automatically, I reach for the sadder pepper. Training from long ago. In my family, we were not allowed to eat the fresh, new, crisp fruit. No, we were to eat the older, mushy fruit or vegetable first. That way, nothing went to waste. We did not waste in our house. I know, I know, but you didn’t know my parents and how close they had lived to starvation for years. Waste was not a choice, it was a way to stay alive. A habit once learned is hard to break.
The result? We rarely ate tasty, just-picked fruits or vegetables. We constantly foraged for the spotted, the almost gross, and saved it from the trash by eating it, cooking it, or burying it in a casserole or soup.
I hesitated, my hand over the older pepper. I knew it would not be crunchy, and the bright red taste had faded to a tougher skin and limp texture. And then it struck me: there are omelets, soups, garnishes, juices that could benefit from the older pepper. But the firm one, the one glowing in the corner, is meant to be eaten now. While it is fresh and juicy. While it is “now” perfect. That is when I will appreciate it most, honor it best.
The older pepper can benefit from another technique, but this one? I’m celebrating it (and my taste buds) for its perfect combination of temperature, color, and happiness.
Life. Enjoy it while it’s fresh. We can’t control much, but we can control the choices we do have.
––Quinn McDonald sees big lessons in small places.