Styrofoam Poisoning

When I was growing up in the South, my parents worked at least two jobs each. This meant that we ate out a lot! Also, my mother always said that she was “allergic” to cooking! My dad was always too tired to cook. Back then, eating out was not as expensive as it is today.

So, off we go to a restaurant for dinner most nights. There were always leftovers, so we would take home a “doggie bag”, as they were called back then. I could never understand why kids’ meals were so much smaller than the adult dinner servings. In my opinion, most restaurants dinner menu plates were too much for one sitting for most adults. Maybe this is why so many Americans are overweight?

So comes the weekends and I got to eat all of the leftovers! Whooo. I would plow through the boxes like a hungry bear. I would inspect each container to identify the tastiest meals to eat first.

Eventually, I went off to college in another town. Every weekend that I came home, I got to sift through all the doggie bags. Score! I could not afford to eat out at school, so I had to eat at the school cafeteria. If any of you have tried the cafeteria food at school, you would understand my utter delight in having free reign over the goods in my parents refrigerator.

If you have not had the opportunity to try a school cafeteria for meals, I can sum it up for you. It sucked. Besides, no upper classmen would be caught dead eating at the cafeteria, as it was way uncool!

So I would come home from school on Friday afternoons and with great anticipation, then I would head straight for the frig. To my joy, there were always at least three or four Styrofoam boxes in the frig. To me, they were like little “gems” of food in a shell that needed to be explored. I would scoop all of the containers from the frig and lay them out across the counters to explore each container in order to locate the best option for my dinner. I felt like I was eating like a queen. Compared to a school cafeteria, I was.

Of course, this would come to an end on Sunday afternoons, when I had to go back to school and eat Ramen noodles.

After college, I came home to live with my parents for a bit until my dad asked me to move out. He said I was driving my mother crazy. He gave me a wad of cash and told me to find an apartment. Nice.

Even after moving out, I would still raid the frig and do my laundry at their house. Baby steps of independence.

One day it occurred to me that I had never seen my mother eat anything from the takeout Styrofoam containers. I mean never. I wanted to ask why she even bothered to bring food home if she was not going to eat it.

I finally did ask her why she did not eat the leftovers. At first, she just laughed. She told me some story about growing up poor and did not like eating leftovers. I told her the food was the same as it was in the restaurant. She laughed again and said, “well, the food gets Styrofoam poison” from the containers. What?

I proceeded to ask her to explain this phenomenon that I had never heard of before. She said the food never tasted the same way it did at the restaurant as it did when you got it home. This is where she came up with “Styrofoam poisoning.” She said every time she would go to the refrigerator; she would see the Styrofoam containers. She said she just could not bring herself to eat the food from the containers.

So if you are like my mom, you are welcome to borrow the phrase when explaining to your children why you do not eat left overs.

As an adult, I have seemingly taken on this curse of Styrofoam poisoning. I will get a take-out container after my meal, then take it home to my frig. Each time I visit the frig, I will take out one of leftovers in a container out of the frig, examine it, then put it back. This will go on for a few days. I will then go to the frig and dump out some of the containers. Why did I even bring it home if I was not going to eat it?

So the next time you decide to get leftovers to go, you may want to think about the food getting “Styrofoam poisoning!”

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