Some background for today’s story: We did Thanksgiving dinner a couple of days late this year, with my mother-and-law and her family. My brother-in-law called us and basically said, “We’re bringing the turkey, you guys bring everything else and cook it all.”

We were cool with that. We had fun — it was the best Thanksgiving pretty much ever. But the morning after, this weird thing happened. I was trying to make breakfast for my wife and son and myself, and also we needed to make a packable lunch to bring with us because we had a Christmas tree lighting to go to (as part of the best Christmas present ever, which I will cover in a separate post.)

As I started making food, my mother-in-law went to talk to my wife, and pointedly remarked that she was concerned about my using all of the turkey. On its face, this was ridiculous — we had an 18-pound turkey, and we had eaten less than half of it. I couldn’t have used up all the turkey if someone had put a gun to my head and told me to eat it all.

Furthermore, this concern apparently extended to all of the other leftovers as well, because despite the fact that we used money we didn’t have to buy the food, despite the fact that we brought more than half of the food, and despite the fact that we cooked all of the food, the only leftovers we walked away with were the four really simple (turkey, mustard, and salad greens) sandwiches I made. My brother-in-law and his fiancée took home most of the leftovers.

So suffice it to say, as we drove home, I was more than a little bit miffed. We literally at this moment have one meal’s worth of protein in the house, all of our money has to go to the rent, and we won’t be able to get any more food for a few more days. That money we spent on Thanksgiving dinner would have been a really good thing to have right now. But when I mentioned all of this to my wife, she told me something that really completely changed my perspective on a lot of things.

Stealing and Counter-Stealing
When you go to a buffet, and there’s only a relatively small amount left of something you like, you naturally pile it all on your plate, even if you can’t actually eat all of it. The fact that there’s a ‘threat’ of losing it altogether naturally makes you inclined to take more than you actually want or need. This is perfectly normal, and I get that.

What I didn’t understand is that my food habits make other people around me feel like whatever food is sitting around is constantly under ‘threat’. I tend to eat whatever happens to be there, because I don’t eat to live; I eat for enjoyment. And I don’t really think much about other people when I do that — it doesn’t really occur to me that someone else might want that food. So effectively, I ‘steal’ food. Pretty regularly.

And that makes other people do exactly the same thing that happens at the buffet table — they ‘counter-steal’. They take the food before I can take it, and they naturally take more than they want or can eat. If they don’t, it might not last, and they all know it.

That was a truly thunderous revelation to me, and doubly so because I’ve seen my son do the exact same thing to me. He’ll be eating his dinner, and have to go to the bathroom, and he’ll tell me, “Daddy, I’m going potty. Don’t eat mine food, OK?”

I’ve probably heard that a few dozen times, but it never occurred to me to wonder why he said that. It wasn’t until I realized (because of my wife telling me over and over again across a hundred miles of highway) that my in-laws all really want to say the same thing to me that I recognized that I really do treat food quite disrespectfully.

(I probably should have had this revelation sometime around two Christmases ago when my brother-in-law invented the term “Secret Fatty Stash” in regard to my plate of leftover mostly-desserts that I left on top of the fridge — which has subsequently been picked up by the entire family to reference any food hidden on one’s person. But I’m not the most self-aware person in the world, which is one reason why I have to blog out all of my stupid self-discovery — if I don’t write about it, I won’t really think about it, and I won’t actually change.)

So here’s my public commitment: I’m going to rethink the way I treat food, and I’m going to be more respectful of other people’s food along the way. I don’t want people to have to be afraid for their ‘fare share’ when I’m around. (Har, har, I’m clever.) That sucks for them in the short-term, and it sucks for me in the long-term as well. So, more counting the future, less immediate gratification. Hopefully my son won’t pick up my bad habit along the way.

Lord, give me the fortitude to eat the food I should, the strength to leave the food I shouldn’t, and the wisdom to know the difference.