Just the other morning I found myself faced with a potentially life-and-death decision. I will do my best to communicate the conflict despite the fact that, seeing as I am obviously alive to tell the tale, much of the suspense of the moment will be lost.
I had just finished up my oatmeal, prepared the only way I'll eat it: Mixed into chocolate chip cookie batter and baked in the oven, and I was craving a tall glass of ice cold milk. I opened the fridge and pulled out the carton. Judging by how little was left, I figured it had been in there for a while, so I checked the date printed on the side. There are two dates, actually: The "sell by" date and the "use by" date, both of which invariably include the year, as though such a specification were necessary to distinguish between milk that is 3 days old and milk that is 364 days old. In any event, I've always been a stickler on expiration dates, especially on dairy products, so whenever I come across milk that is even past its "sell by" date, I'll either throw out the remaining milk and open a new carton or I'll pour it into Matthew's glass because he never knows the difference anyway. But this morning was a turning point. Just six days prior I had implemented a new family budget which included significant cuts in the grocery department. Every dollar would be accounted for. Every receipt would be analyzed. Something had to give.
I read the date, looked at the calendar, and did the math. Three days. Not past sell by. Past use by. I was practically holding a carton of toxic waste. Fighting back the urge to deposit it directly into the outdoor trash can and despite the fact that there was a brand-new container, pristine and unopened, sitting in the fridge, in the interest of frugality I emptied the substance into my glass. I stared at the milk, waiting for something to happen. Bubbles, floating chunks, perhaps melting glass. Nothing. It just sat there, perfectly nonchalant about being three days expired. I was not convinced. Eyeing it suspiciously, I slowly leaned forward to perform “The Smell Test”. The Smell Test ruled in my house growing up. If something was questionable, my mom or dad would simply give it a good whiff to see if it smelled "bad". I always wondered what it would have to smell like for my parents to deem it "bad". Garbage? Feet? Dorito-breath? I don't know that there was ever a set rule since my parents still can't agree on how long eggs are safe. Mom says two weeks past the sell by. Dad seems to think that as long as no baby chickens are hatching in the refrigerator, they're good to go.
I gave my milk a cautious sniff. No garbage, no feet. I took a small sip. It tasted fine. Refreshing, even. With a sense of liberation I threw the empty carton into the trash, scoffing at its melodramatic scare tactics. They would phase me no longer. It was the end of an era. The ushering in of the Age of The Smell Test.