Life is somewhat akin to the use by dates on the side of food products. An estimation, predicting, “best when used by.” Smelling, poking, lifting, checking color is no different than parenting. Kicking ourselves for forgetting, tucked behind something else, wondering whether, “still good” – our treatment of friends, love ones, family. In college, I took a course entitled Chemistry for Non-science Majors, an experiment by the Science Department, in hope of stripping the mysteries and fears of science away. “Making science friendly again – to make America great again” – no I’m making that part up, digressing early, my apology.
May I continue? – One of the areas covered dealt with food sciences. The preservation of food, learning about the chemical compounds printed on the side of foods in the marketplace, discovering how plants are genetically modified, understanding how substances change when one molecule is removed, another added. No different than life.
Years ago, a friend of mine by her fortieth birthday began to read the obituaries in the Houston Chronicle daily. I didn’t understand what she was doing. A big city paper, surely Donna didn’t expect to see someone she knew in the paper everyday. I didn’t understand Donna was lamenting aging, seeing time pass, her use by date approaching fast, wondering whether the “best by this date” was approaching, or even passed. Lamenting, lamenting, lamenting, reading, expressing anger, frustration, pointing at someone she didn’t even know.
I understand now. Smelling, poking, pushing … looking for signs of imminent death – like I am going to see some magical clue from the image looking back at me in the mirror. Expressing condolences, barely able to contain myself, wanting to ask, having to ask, “What did he die of?”, “Oh, I’m so sorry”, “How old did you say he was?” – “My, my, my” wrapped, packaged around my concerns, Donna’s concerns, for the “best used by date.” Reading the obituary closely, seeing what they didn’t say. Much like high fructose corn syrup, sodium erythorbate, erythorbic acid, seeing the words imprinted on the packaging, having no concept what I’m looking at, looking for.
“Died how young?”
“Did they say why?”
“Cancer, diabetes, didn’t eat right, didn’t exercise?”
“Oh, died in a car accident. Good! Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean it that way.”
Seeing the meat in the refrigerator, immediately realizing it was purchased a week ago, knowing you forgot, wondering whether it is past it’s “use by date.” Reaching to throw it out, remembering your mother’s instruction to drain the meat, wash off the blood, then smell. Salting, seasoning, smelling, using in a meal, eating.
Smelling the milk, retching, embarrassed at the waste, seeing starving children in River Oaks, before adapting, stirring, folding, mixing with other sour milk for bread. Remembering the lessons, their history: never throwing anything away, born during the depression, on farms, surviving, reusing, adapting, saving, feeding their families on little, proud of their resourcefulness. Developing idioms to explain life problems, life events, reminding their heirs, not to throw away objects – things – people: “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” “Making chicken salad out of chicken gaga’” (even though the wrong word used, I think you get the point).
The medical profession raves against the over-consumption of anything – salt, sugar – while failing to point us to the operative word(s), over-consumption. Not ever willing to deny that salt is a necessary nutrient, in turn posting warnings, placing salt on the Most Wanted Criminal List, a criminal, dangerous. That same profession sits back in shock at our willingness to by-pass substitutes for the real thing, an organic substance.
So label me confused, wondering what the fuss is about surrounding food labeling – much like life. Finding myself doing much more important tasks, reading the obituaries daily, attending more funerals than weddings, expressing my condolences to get close enough to ask additional questions, looking in the mirror, poking, prodding, smelling, seeing the use by date approaching fast.
“Nope, doesn’t smell like death.”
“Ain’t nothing wrong with you boy! You need to take a shower!”