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Please Throw Away All the Scary Stuff in Your Freezer

Seriously, it’s time

Anthropomorphized bags and containers of old food crawling zombie-like out of the freezer. Illustration. Emily Chu

The deepest, darkest corners of my tiny apartment freezer are where good intentions go to die. Because I am frequently cooking for just one or two people, I often have a ton of leftovers, especially little odds and ends, that I just can’t bear to throw into the trash. As such, I’m forever sticking a container of uneaten beans or a single chicken breast into the freezer, never to be seen again.

These random leftovers pile up over time, especially when combined with the containers of extra soup, knobs of ginger, baggies full of cooked rice, and remnants of pasta sauce or pesto, turning my freezer into a pretty terrifying place. It’s an icy museum of my failures — all the food I’ve allowed to become freezer burned in favor of fresher, more compelling groceries.

A few months ago, these random piles of Ziploc bags and precarious stacks of pint containers became untenable, and in a moment of desperation, I simply threw them all away.

Although, yes, I did feel guilty in the moment, tossing the contents of my freezer into the dumpster was an exercise in liberation. With my freezer empty of all the random stuff I’d already refused to eat on countless occasions, I was now free to stock it with food I actually would eat. Suddenly there was room for Trader Joe’s frozen snacks like the edamame pods I love to steam, then douse with ponzu and chile crisp for an easy side dish. (You know, items that are designed specifically to hold up well in the freezer.)

You might want to steel your nerves for the process, because cleaning out your freezer requires complete and total honesty with yourself. You must be willing to admit that you’re not going to turn those ice-coated chicken filets into dinner and that you’re almost certainly not going to cook with anything that’s frozen into an unrecognizable mass. It’s likely that much of the food in your freezer has been there longer than experts recommend. Many frozen foods start to degrade substantially after only a few months, and while they’re safe to eat, they’re usually mushy and gross.

You must make peace with the fact that this food has already been wasted, and holding on to it doesn’t do anything to solve the real problem of American food waste. It’s a shame that it’s almost impossible to buy the small amount of chicken you need at the grocery store because everything’s sold in enormous family packs. And it’s equally shameful that, in this place of abundance, many people are unable to afford to buy enough food. But the old chicken breasts in your freezer aren’t the root of systemic hunger, and throwing out a single trash bag of discarded food isn’t a climate disaster. (If you’re really feeling weird about the waste, consider donating a little cash or a few hours of your time to a food pantry, where you can actually make a difference instead of stewing in your guilt.)

Once you’ve got a clean slate, you can stock your freezer in a way that makes sense for your life. Buy a few bins to keep your staples organized, or maybe install a shelf that will allow you to take advantage of any unused vertical space. Then head to the grocery store with the intention of buying only what you need for the week, and make a mental note to peek inside your freezer once a month or so and toss anything that looks suspect.

It might be a little painful at first, but you’re not going to regret trashing all the scary stuff in your freezer. Repeat that mantra to yourself as you pull all those sketchy containers from the shelves, and power through. And if you do find yourself feeling guilty, try to channel that energy into building more sustainable shopping habits — ones that won’t turn your freezer into a hall of subzero horrors.

Emily Chu is a illustrator, muralist, and visual artist based in Edmonton, Canada.

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