We decided to tackle the most flagrant first-world problem right after Martin Luther King Day.
Who's we? Peggy, me and our 22-year-old daughter, Maggie. She's doing postgraduate research on the topic of empty-nest invasion.
There's strength in numbers. And we aimed to get our numbers down. The number of nights we prepared pasta. The number of bowls per week of cereal with shovels of sugar on top. The number of times we reached for bagels and breads and butter and cheese and milk. The number of all manner of factory-fabricated food selections. And yes, the number of calories. Game on!
Maggie called a meeting. A born facilitator, with multicolored markers she charted out our next 30 days.
She drew crisp columns that categorized our goals, things we would specifically do to support others, and what we needed in return. The notes also included a list of foods the plan allowed. We posted our Magna a la Carta on the refrigerator.
The next morning we were raring to go. Just one problemo. All the food in the house was in the no-no categories of the diet we had sworn allegiance to in the previous night's sÃ©ance.
What diet was that?
A paleo diet. There. I said it. Paleopaleopaleopaleo!
Saying you're on a paleo diet is like saying you're a Scientologist. If you start one of these diets, keep it to yourself or prepare for pariah-hood. I told my coworker I was on a paleo, and she started treating me like a warlock. Joke's on her! Warlocks eat whatever they want!
Peggy and I came home from work the day after MLK day and discovered that Maggie had pressed "pause" on her research into empty-nest destruction and instead had spent hours clearing out the kitchen cabinets. She split the contents into three neat sections, spread completely across the dining-room table. There were handwritten tent signs folded before each group.
The first sign said "For Tucker." He's Maggie's big brother who lives in Milwaukee. This was the King Midas pile. Chocolate Cheerios, peanut butter, bagels. Stuff like that.
The second said "For Food Pantry." You can imagine this pile. Cans of corn, boxes of mac and cheese, logs of cellophaned spaghetti stacked like cordwood.
Way down at the end of the table, huddled together like frozen Donner party survivors, was the third pile, labeled "Keep": Three bottles of odd-looking sauces that were in the house when we bought it in 1997, and the salt and pepper shakers.
It's not that we didn't enjoy well prepared meals prior to now. It's just that this plan restricted ingredients. Most common ingredients. We had some shopping to do.
A diet is nothing but an enormous, never-ending henpeck. Suddenly we were reading labels. On everything.
The start of any major campaign calls a person to drastic action. And so it was that I found myself at Woodman's for the first time since 1998. I filled the cart to overflow.
What's the difference between good food and food that's good for you? About three bucks a pound. The only familiar item in my cart after an hour was a six-pack of IPA, our one indulgence -- on weekends only, we vowed.
In the checkout line I glanced down at the volcano of nutrition in the steel cart. Oh Jesus. What have I become? I'm used to eating the People magazine equivalent of food, like the guy who was in front of me in line, a big ol' pile of flannel with so much Skoal in his mouth I could smell the menthol.
I watched him heave purchase after purchase of frozen-solid, ready-to-eat, processed yummy items toward the cashier. They crashed onto the belt like bowling balls.
He paused from his work and looked over his shoulder into my cart. He squinted at the row of flesh-colored squash nestled atop a mattress of cut spinach.
I turned my head as though I was emerging from an adult bookstore.
One of the promises our Band of Three made was not to let our diet overtake every topic of conversation at home. As soon as we marked that down on our chart, over three weeks ago, we commenced to talking about our diet every waking moment and haven't stopped.
Funny thing, though. Kitchen talk at dinnertime sounds nothing like it did pre-diet. When you think about it, what is there to talk about when cooking a frozen pizza?
"I'll cut the plastic wrap off."
"Great. Hand me the cardboard circle thing."
"Here. I'll put the pizza in the oven."
"Cumin's earthy, sweet yet bitter-smoky flavor will meld into the chicken drumsticks while we brown them in the skillet."
For all the yummy dishes we've learned to create, there are four days left and we're getting extremely weak.
"Large popcorn with butter," the girl announced as she mistakenly slid the order right under Maggie's and my nose at Sundance last weekend. Maggie and I looked at each other. We thought about it the entire movie.