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Living with Foreigners: Part 4 – Wasting Food is Bad but Refrigeration is Optional

October 1, 2016

If you are like most Americans, probably your first associations with the country of Ethiopia are those of starving children surrounded by flies and pictures of dire famine. I admit, that these were also some of my first impressions. Needless to say, now that I am married to an Ethiopian, I have somewhat revised my mental associations.

And while my wife never suffered from famine or starvation, sometimes the way that she refuses to throw out food that has clearly gone bad makes me think that maybe she was starving. For example, at this very moment we have chicken salad that has been sitting in our refrigerator for over two weeks. There is also some Ethiopian cheese that is left over from a Labor Day cookout. In my opinion, neither of these items are fit to eat. However, I can sense that my wife still is hesitant to throw them out.

“Mattiye, don’t throw those out. They’re still good.”

“Oh really?” I reply. “Would you eat them?”

“No, but I just hate wasting food.”

I explain to her that we’re not really wasting food if it is no longer edible. She eventually acquiesces but I can tell that it bothers her as I clean out the fridge and cabinets. Moldy cheese – gone. Bread that is stale? Into the garbage can. Expired can goods? Tossed. The look on my wife’s face as I start pitching food away according to my scorched earth policy clearly shows her discontent.

“I know that the salad dressing expired a year ago, but does Italian dressing really go bad? What’s wrong with it? Besides, the expiration date is really more of a suggestion anyways” she exclaims.

“It old and expired. That’s what’s wrong with it.”

“Yeah, but it wouldn’t probably make you sick if you used it though.” she states defiantly as if the sole determining factor for whether food has gone bad is that it won’t make deathly ill if you eat it. I have other standards though.

This reluctance to throw out food that has gone bad is only one part of the equation however. Conversely, my wife also believes that things that clearly should be refrigerated will be okay if left out overnight or in some cases several days on the stove. Her main contention is that Ethiopian food has enough spices in it to stave off any sort of bacteria or fungal growth in the food. It doesn’t matter if it has chicken or beef in it, “The spices will protect it.”

I tried to educate her about the hazards of leaving food out that has been heated and then cooled repeatedly but so far this has yet to make any lasting impact on her behavior. Sad as it is to say, my only hope now is that she contracts some low-level food borne illness that leaves her with a nasty stomach bug for a couple of days. But really, who knows? After eating some pretty spicy Ethiopian food over the years, maybe the spices really do have some mystical power to ward off nasty pathogens.

I mean, she has been eating food that hasn’t been refrigerated for years and she’s still alive and well. Maybe there is something to her theory. And honestly when you eat things like Kitfo which is essentially raw meat mixed with spices and butter, who’s to say whether your diarrhea is from bacteria or simply your stomach’s intolerance for uncooked beef.

Either way, I haven’t died yet. Although sometimes- just sometimes, after repeated and frequent trips to the toilet with what I only can describe as fiery, watery and particularly pungent bowel movements- I may wish that I had.

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