Toast to Thrift

Of six, three had survived The Great Depression. Thrifty stock, we carpooled our way to West Virginia in my grandfather's Ford F150 conversion van--his baby--which he rationalized owning because he rented it to others through his Family Fun Rental Vans business.

Pipestem Resort State Park
Courtesy: West Virginia Department of Commerce
En route from Michigan, my parents, grandparents and I picked up my Great Aunt Ethel at her home in southern Ohio. Our destination: breathtakingly beautiful, uncrowded, and strikingly inexpensive off-season Pipestem Resort State Park in the Appalachian Mountains.

Our first morning, at the restaurant overlooking Bluestone River Gorge, my mom ate a fruit plate. Served on a decorative bed of romaine, she asked the waitress, "I'd hate to see this beautiful lettuce go to waste. Could I get some salad dressing?" Mortified--I was still a teenager, after all--I rejoiced that the hostess hadn't seated other diners within earshot.

After my mom ate her fruit, she was left with a
decorative bed of lettuce. Courtesy: BBQ Junkie
The waitress returned. I bristled upon the sight of two ramekins of salad dressing placed in front of my mother. She ate her "salad," yet one cup of dressing remained. A brainstorming session between a thrifty trio of mom, grandma and Aunt Ethel ensued, the obvious solution--saving it--proving impractical due to lack of a cooler. Worried that the runner-up idea of requesting more lettuce would result in an extra charge, my mom and grandma, chagrined, chose to abandon it.

Then, teetotaling Aunt Ethel grabbed the salad dressing, downing it in one gulp as if it were a shot of whiskey, exclaiming, "I like salad dressing!" While many people do enjoy salad dressing, few favor it enough to drink straight; that's why it doesn't come in 12-packs. A child of The Great Depression, she might've more accurately declared, "I hate waste!"

We could just chuckle about Aunt Ethel, proclaiming it silly to pretend drinking the salad dressing really accomplished anything, other than assuaging consciences.

But perhaps it did. A refreshing change of pace, she set an example, that food is something to be valued, not squandered without a thought. If Aunt Ethel could drink a ramekin of salad dressing that she didn't even buy, how can the rest of us fail to use what we've actually purchased? Yet, estimates state Americans waste over 30% of the food that enters their homes.

Courtesy: Bob's Healthful Kitchen
The book American Wasteland: How America Throws Away Nearly Half Its Food (and what we can do about it) offers ways to curb food waste. And I have some parting thoughts of my own to add:

*People continue to waste food, while donations to charities are down. If you're wasting, you're not giving as you could.
*On Thanksgiving day, we say we're thankful for our food, but a look in our trash cans proves otherwise.
*Many of us require our produce be pristine, or we trash it. But which is really spoiled? The produce, or the person who can't be bothered to cut off a bad spot?

Like Cutsi in my last post, The Mountains of Romania, Aunt Ethel, too, is a generous giver with a big heart. Indeed, with a good dose of thrift, even those of modest means can aspire to philanthropy.

So, next time you cull the old salad dressings languishing in your refrigerator door, drink--to Aunt Ethel!

Up next: We honeymoon at the in-laws', and I meet an incredible woman: The Mountains of Romania


  1. My grandmother used to keep a bathtub of potatoes in the basement. No way those Irish root cellar roots would ever go hungry again! :) Here's to Aunt Ethel! May she never go without transfats!

  2. Wonderful post! My dad, another Depression survivor and son of a coal miner, could never let the fat on the meat go. Grossed me out as a kid, but I think when you've gone to bed hungry, it's hard to see any kind food go the waste.


  3. Excellent article! I too drink the left over salad dressing in the bowl,since it is made with good olive oil and quality cider vinegar,garlic,fresh herbs,honey and mustard (oops just gave away my secret recipe) I think it would be a waste the throw it down the sink.Anyway all these ingredients are very healthy. I wouldn't advocate drinking pints of it though!

  4. @Anonymous: Love it! What you're drinking sounds good. This was commercial ranch or thousand island, or something like that!

  5. I always feel really guilty when I throw out food, and I've stopped buying eggs because I only use two or three in cookies (Now I use bananas or flaxseeds mixed with water in my cookies, and they still work out.)

    Thanks for the reminder!

  6. Thanks for the story! I think I went along too because I remember eating at the lodge and swimming in its big pool. I don't specifically remember the dressing incident, but it's something my mom would do. BTW it's Esther not Ethel.

    Cousin Mark

  7. Mark, I changed the name to protect the innocent, since I didn't know if she'd mind if I blogged about her!


I'd love to have your comments and reflections!