“My father, a product of the Great Depression, has always gone to extraordinary lengths to avoid waste, especially food waste. It’s a trait he shares with many of his peers from the so-called "silent generation." As an adult, I find his extreme thrift somewhat admirable, but as a teenager, it was mortifying.
Here's an example: growing up, whenever my family ate at a “fast casual” restaurant like Howard Johnson’s or IHOP, my dad would discreetly collect the unused packets of sugar, jam, and other single-serve condiments. Without attracting my mom's attention, he'd stealthily slip them into her handbag(think: large, overstuffed Mom-style tote). Dad always intended to transfer the culinary contraband to the fridge as soon as we arrived back home. But often he’d get distracted and neglect to remove them from the bag. The most infamous incident involved six foil-wrapped pats of butter that melted into a greasy puddle inside my mom's purse on a sweltering summer morning.
Generally, though, Dad put the jams to immediate use for his breakfast. He has always been a toast-and-jam guy. At ninety, this is still his routine.
As far as the pilfered sugar packets, they joined the hundreds, literally hundreds, of other branded sugar packets that were stored in anticipation of future houseguests' coffee needs. Since we didn't live in a B&B, I suspect my father still holds an enormous collection, probably stashed away in a dresser. I wouldn't be surprised to discover them nestled among his socks.
While we're on the subject of food conservation, lunchtime in my childhood home deserves special mention. For the majority of my parents' half-century-long marriage, a pact governed their evening meal routine: Mom cooked, and Dad did the dishes. But for the midday meal every member of the household fended for themselves, my father included.
In his relentless quest to prevent food spoilage, Dad would scour the fridge for leftovers, leading to a litany of unusual, and often starkly unappetizing, food combinations. Think: stew-topped spaghetti, shepherd's pie salad, and baked-cod-on-toast. Even sandwiches weren't safe from his creative frugality. Leftovers of all sorts found their way between heels of bread – cheese rinds, potato salad… beef stew. Dad avoided wasting food like it was his job. (Again, kind of awesome or terribly embarrassing? It’s hard to say.)
This Father’s Day, I’d like to thank all the dads, quirks and all. Whether you routinely cook meals for your family, or you’ve never stepped foot in the kitchen, thank you for doing what you do, in your way, to raise good human beings.
Subscribe to our newsletter, The Turnip, to receive exclusive discounts and updates, insider tips + tricks from our awesome team, and instant access to the Sticky Fingers Cooking Starter Kit for free!