I used to follow expiry dates like gospel, figuring the sour cream would sweeten, the ice cream would melt, and the rice would crumble into dust the morning after after the the block-stamped date on the bottom of the package had passed. If the expiry date was closing in, I’d just cut my losses and chuck it. “Better safe than sorry,” I’d say, tossing a half-full carton of orange juice off the wall and into the garbage.
Then for the two years while I lived with Joey in Boston, I witnessed him first-hand casually disregard expiry dates with a wave of the hand and a slight laugh. “What’s going to happen?,” he’d ask sarcastically, putting together a salad with brown Romaine, rock-hard croutons, and Caesar dressing that poured out a film of oil before the dressing came out. “Am I going to die?”
And he had a point. While the nutritional content of last month’s blueberries may have slipped a notch, as long as they weren’t growing spores or starting to smell like a diaper, how bad could they be? I watched Joey carefully from a distance for a while, looking for signs that he was putting himself at risk. But no, nothing. He kept right on standing. No retching from his bedroom late at night, no disappearing rolls of toilet paper and clogged pipes, no sudden hospital visits after eating doggie-bag chicken wings from someone’s birthday party a month before. He was all right.
And so with newfound courage I slowly started testing the waters. Cans of soda seemed like easy first targets. I don’t even remember them having expiry dates when I was a kid, and so the terse finger-wagging printed on the bottom of the aluminum can seemed like a bit of a joke. Who throws away an unopened can of Diet Pepsi? I suppose Pepsi would love it if we just bought their stuff, stashed it for a while, and then threw it out. But I would no longer stand for that. So I conquered soda, then branched out into potato chips. They go stale when you don’t seal them, they stay fresh when you do, right? So the date probably applied if you left them sitting in a bowl on your coffee table, I eventually figured. I bought them, I’ll eat them, even if it takes me till Christmas.
It was tougher to be brave with bread and milk, but I convinced myself that worst-case scenario I was just eating penicillin and cheese. I pictured a cracker with a square of brie and a pink capsule squished right into it and I thought “That’s not that bad.”
And so it went. Buying groceries just for myself got easier, knowing that I had the newfound strength to down yellow orange juice or slice up onions that had grown roots and were searching desperately for soil under my kitchen sink. Plus, I saved a lot of money, and I like to think I helped give my immune system some tough new cases to crack, like sending it to the gym for some strength training and mental focusing so it’s ready for prime time. This way I’m ready in case I ever get shot with a poison dart or mistake a glass of paint thinner for water.
Now, I’m not advocating being stupid. The fuzzy lampchops should probably still be left alone. But come on, let’s hear it for pushing a little bit harder. Let’s here it for testing the waters. Let’s hear it for eating things past the expiry date.