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Attack of the Food Eroder — or — “The Ninja Nibbler of the Night”

“Women shop. Men resupply.”

When I worship at the Cathedral of Food ( “Whole Foods — Why Pay Less?”), I don’t buy meals, I buy components. I’ve lived alone for some time but buy like I’m supplying a small tribe. I’ve tried to control this by selecting the “little” cart; that grocery Miata that lets you believe you’re not really buying as much as you are. It doesn’t work. I come home, unpack my “kills” — at about $69 a bag — and mumble, “Who’s going to eat all this?”

Houseguests are the gods’ answer to “Who’s going to eat this?” They are. That’s okay. I love to cook for people. I’m good at it and it gets boring cooking for one; expensive too since I loathe leftovers.

The supply problems return when your house guests are stealth eaters. You know who I mean. Yes, you. Stealth eaters never, ever overeat — except on the sly. Stealth eaters are the Merrill’s Marauders of the post-midnight refrigerator.

Ordinary stealth eaters can be contained. The damage done by their pillage is apparent. You had half of a banana cream pie in the frig at sunset but by dawn, it is gone. Vanished. Evaporated. Kaput. Never to be heard from again. Not so much as a ransom note, just a crumpled tin husk folded and stuffed down the side of the garbage bag beneath the camouflage of a crumpled milk carton.

Not pleasing, especially when you were planning on banana cream pie for breakfast. Still, you suck up your sorrow, move on, and resupply.

Not so with the worst sort of stealth eater — the dreaded food eroder.

The food eroder wishes to eat but not be seen eating nor to be known to have eaten. The food eroder is so stealthy he or she can even conceal their eating from themselves. The food eroder can make your entire refrigerator into a Potemkin village where you think you have a LOT of food, but actually have almost none. A food eroder deals in cuisine disinformation.

Case in point:

Some weeks back I had a house guest. This houseguest was a very careful eater — someone cognizant of the fine points of nutrition; someone who knew the calories in a twice-baked potato down to the last bacon bit swimming in a buttered slough of sour cream. This nameless but shameless someone also had a finely tuned economic indicator and never met a leftover that was not loved, caressed, and consumed — even when the original meal was lost to recorded history.

I once had a kind of grudging respect for this guest who was much more disciplined about food than I could ever hope to be. But that was before I discovered — after the guest’s departure — that I had been sharing my home and sacred refrigerator with a food eroder, a late-night Ninja nibbler.

You see, in order to fulfill my male mission of re-supply, I need to know what supplies are actually on hand. With a food eroder, this cannot be known since — if you do not actually hand-inspect every item in your larder — you can never be sure of the quantity. What you can be sure of, I now know, is that a food eroder will guarantee you have less than you think.

The clearest example of this is — as I have discovered today — the most often decimated target of any self-respecting food eroder, ice cream.

About a month ago I noted that the house had no ice cream in the freezer. This is not good — especially should an after-midnight-ice-cream emergency break out while watching, say, “I Got the Hook-Up.”

To prepare for such an emergency, and thus avert an ice-cream crisis, I resupplied the freezer with a full half-gallon of French Vanilla. Since my house guest was looking a bit peckish at the time I offered to make a couple of sundaes (caramel sauce, shaved almonds, etc.). My guest gracefully accepted and the half-gallon of ice cream supply was reduced by perhaps a pint overall. This left around three pints. Such was the state of the ice cream three weeks ago at last check. Need for resupply? Negligible.

Fast forward to today when I was suddenly stricken with an ice-cream emergency (While watching, yet again, “I Got the Hook-Up.”) and staggered to the supply in the freezer. As I removed it I noted it felt strangely light for a container that should have contained about three pints. You can only imagine my shock when upon opening it I discovered that it contained only about a half-inch thickness of ice cream covering the now far-distant bottom.

But that was not the worst of it.

On closer examination, the surface of that razor-thin level of ice cream was scored by a series of small parallel grooves across it from side to side. It was as if somebody had gone back and forth over the ice cream with a teaspoon like a lawnmower.

I knew then I had been hit by the food eroder. I knew that, over several nights, my ice cream had been hit again and again and again.

Just a little this time. Just a little more that time. Then a bit again when the compulsion struck. And all, it was clear, in a shameful and furtive way as I slept.

This degradation probably went on and on until the food eroder could no longer avoid the terrible truth that nearly half a gallon of ice cream had been consumed whilst standing at the refrigerator with spoon in hand. At that point, shame overcame the eroder and the container was placed carefully back in the refrigerator so that it would appear to be undisturbed.

The food eroder escaped without ever having to face the shame. I’m off to resupply and thus avoid a post-midnight ice-cream crisis. My only solace is that I know that the food eroder, now back home and faced with a refrigerator stocked only with the desiccating remnants of cantaloupe and celery is still having to walk an extra two miles every day in penance. Ice cream giveth, but ice cream doth not taketh away.

Meanwhile, my stock is back to normal. But I am taking steps to avoid future shock. I’m installing a state-of-the-art motion-sensing alarm on the refrigerator instead of my previous sign that said, “Too late. Already here.”

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Mike Anderson August 4, 2019, 7:10 AM

    In my callow youth I developed an ice cream eroding technique that involved scooping out servings from the “unopened” end of the brick-like carton. Can’t do that anymore, not with all these newfangled chi-chi round and oval cartons.

    Oh, and those “little” carts at the supermarket. I call those Sports Carts; they’re more manuverable, turn on a dime, and much easier to park. Although I’ve noticed my local grocery behemoth, H-E-B, is gradually upgrading their stores with BIGGER “little” carts. (Only available in finer neighborhoods; poor folks just wheel them down the block)

  • OneGuy August 4, 2019, 8:12 AM

    We have a Whole Foods store in town. I went there the first time looking for dried chives. Couldn’t find them at the supermarket so thought I would try Whole Foods. Found them, small bottle for $7. Whoa! $7!!! So I made do with green onions from Walmart for $.50 a bundle. I have gone back to whole foods maybe 3 times since, but not to shop. But to laugh at the fools paying twice as much for the same thing you can buy at Walmart (actually I think I’m wrong; 3 times what it costs at Walmart and twice what it costs at Safeway).

  • ghostsniper August 4, 2019, 9:09 AM

    @One dood, if you have a Rural King close by you can get a plastic bottle of dried chives for about a dollar. That’s where I get them and I put dried chives on almost everything. The bottle is about 4″ tall and 1-1/4″ diameter. I stock em deep around these parts. Dried onions, and garlics too.

  • MIKE GUENTHER August 4, 2019, 12:18 PM

    Ice cream thieves, huh.

    When me and my brothers were kids, our folks would buy ice cream in the three gallon tubs. Usually one Vanilla, one Chocolate and one Strawberry. Those should have lasted a while, but for a while, they didn’t.

    Brothers and I would wake up early on Saturday mornings to watch cartoons while Mom and Pop were still snug in their beds. We’d each grab a tub of ice cream and a table spoon…no teaspoons for us, and sit in front of the TV eating our “breakfast.”

    When we heard them stirring around to get up, we’d hurry and put the ice cream back in the freezer. ( We had a large freezer in the garage.)

    We got away with it for a while until one of my brothers left their dang spoon in the tub. Pop installed a hasp and lock on the freezer after that.

  • Brio August 4, 2019, 2:39 PM

    A full half gallon of ice cream you say. I haven’t seen a true half gallon of ice cream in decades. Oh it looks like the traditional half gallon but the label says 1.5 quarts—decidedly less than a half gallon. Why it’s as if the food erosion starts before you bring it home from the store.

    I am amazed at the claim of checking on a tub of ice cream after 3 weeks of sitting in a freezer. It wouldn’t have lasted 3 days in my freezer. I’ve been known to eat a “half gallon” tub in one day. No I am not a tub of lard even without the extra walking. It happens two or three times a year.

    Finally, maybe I was raised wrong. When I stay at someone’s house, I make it a point to buy groceries above and beyond what I eat. I would have replenished that ice cream several times and would have probably left an extra container by the time I left.

  • Brio August 4, 2019, 2:56 PM

    Mike: That is funny. The hijinks of boys is hard to contain. Did you guys switch flavors or stay with the same bucket each time? What brother came up with this scheme—the eldest? The other brothers readily agreed to go along or did one say he was going to snitch to mom and dad?

  • Alexandria Dumas August 4, 2019, 6:23 PM

    What I don’t get is eating almost every bit of something, like grated cheese, and leaving a teaspoon, not enough to do anything with. And eating almost all the cereal and leaving a tiny bit in the box, just finish it already! I once went through the cereal shelf, dumped all the almost empty boxes in a bowl, and ended up with one bowl of cereal, 12 empty cereal boxes and an empty shelf. People, just finish the stuff so I’ll know to buy more.

  • jwm October 2, 2022, 7:57 AM

    My dear wife noticed the periodic invasions of little mice in our kitchen. And she noticed that the invasions usually coincide with my visits to the local speakeasy weed shop down the street.
    I try to deny, but the wife is too sly.


  • Casey Klahn October 2, 2022, 8:10 AM

    My son is not so much a food eroder as he is a food Hoover. My daughter is away at college and so I don’t directly feed her, but mentally I do and from my wallet proceedeth the money.

    When I was raising these 2 raisins, plus my marriage unit of wife and self, I watched my refrigerator fill and hide all things back, and disgorge all things front. Over the course of the 21 years of familial larder, the refrigerator wheezed and groaned at its labor. First toddlers, then school children, then high schoolers, then pandemic prisoners, and now all young adults or senior citizen parents and the fridge was consuming as much as we were just by outdating it. Is mold a food group? I noticed the WalMart was using too liberal of wear-out dates and I was throwing away way too much food.

    Now partly because I didn’t like the new refrigerator designs, and partly because I was flat broke many of the times when I became interested in updating the fridge, I put off the new purchase. Take my advice: when the kids are teens, and when the government decides they’ve had enough of your shit and want to lock you in your house for a year or two, that is the time to upgrade your cold box. I wanted the one with the Fifties housewife, but wound up with the one the diaper baby and dog are raiding. Mylord but it holds a lot of contents. Plus, it betters the use-by dates rather than ruins your food.

    The electronics and computers are tricky. During the rules of Obama and now of Biden, the prices of foods soared like a Saturn 5 rocket going to the moon. The new checkerless stores are a bitch and it’s as if they don’t want you buying food anymore. Even the checker-staffed checkstands have shrank and fukYoo if you want service and speed, who are you> Dagwood? This ain’t the Fifties bitch it’s the 2020s and guess whose the product now? You are. Getyershit and get out. Consider this paragraph to have been the crisper drawer of my essay on food.

    I made a mean Logger’s Chili, yesterday. Closes door on fridge. Walks away.

  • Mike Austin October 2, 2022, 8:59 AM

    I started cooking for my mom, my half-brother and myself when I was 9 years old. Now 60 years later, I am a pretty damn good cook. My specialty is Mexican, Alfredo sauces and Chinese. My bread is to die for. If you eat it and say it is not the best bread you have ever had, you’re a liar.

    Since I have lived alone for 43 years of my adult life, I usually prepare enough food so that I can go 2 – 3 days without cooking. Leftovers are a life send, the microwave a gift from God. I do not even shop any more. All my larder is ordered on-line and delivered right to my door. I figure I have enough food at home for 60 days with no restock.

    Cooking for others is a great joy. Three weeks ago, I prepared Kung Pao Chicken for a family of five—including three kids. They absolutely enjoyed it. Today I am cooking for my bicycle mechanic—an absolute necessity considering I have 3 bikes that need regular upkeep and I need to keep him happy.

  • OneGuy October 2, 2022, 10:42 AM

    I was struck by this line: ” I offered to make a couple of sundaes (caramel sauce, shaved almonds, etc.). My guest gracefully accepted and the half-gallon of ice cream supply was reduced by perhaps a pint overall. ”

    I buy ice cream by the half gallon. I typically open up the container and with a large spoon begin eating. As soon as I have created a small “well” in the ice cream I fill it with chocolate syrup and take both containers with me to my chair where I eat until the chocolate is gone, add more chocolate and repeat until satiated. I cannot imagine the restraint to make two sundaes from a mere pint of ice cream. My restraint is to leave enough in the container so that I can do it again tomorrow night.

    I thought eating from the half gallon tub was normal and adding the chocolate directly to it was genius. Come on man! Who limits themselves unnecessarily?

    • Mike Austin October 2, 2022, 11:05 AM

      Your comment demands that I get some ice cream today. And by the way, I eat mine the same way. And yep: Who limits themselves unnecessarily? Not I. Nope, not I. I am retired at 69 after teaching kids for 27 years. I’ve paid my dues. I’ll eat and drink whatever the Hell I want.

      • ghostsniper October 2, 2022, 1:11 PM

        How is it that after all these years I am just now finding out a “half gallon” of ice cream is NOT a single serving???

        • Mike Austin October 2, 2022, 3:51 PM

          Yeah. One serving of ice cream for me is one quart. Same with booze. One ounce is a drink? Who says?

          A buddy of mine was told by his wife that he could only have one glass of wine with dinner. Amazingly, he agreed. He uses this wine glass:


          So far she is a s quiet as a church mouse.

        • azlibertarian October 2, 2022, 3:57 PM

          “How is it that after all these years I am just now finding out a “half gallon” of ice cream is NOT a single serving???

          Son-in-law#2 takes a similar tack with pizza. He claims that “All pizzas are Personal Pan Pizzas. You just gotta want it enough.”

  • Wild, wild west October 2, 2022, 7:17 PM

    This sounds like the ice cream theft in The Caine Mutiny. Everybody turn in your keys for inspection.

  • Anon October 2, 2022, 8:05 PM

    I notice that all but one of the commenters are men. You are fortunate to be able to consume whatever you want whenever you want it. Most women cannot. Some random thoughts:

    Re: your “Food Eroder” guest, I suggest that if said guest arrives again, you ensure that there is no large container of ice cream in the freezer. Get a box (reasonable number) of ice cream sandwiches, mention that “he” can help himself if he wants to, note how many remain daily. (I would say “a package of Klondike bars”, but they are just too irresistible.) You can always go out for an ice cream treat if desired. “Weight-and Portion Control 101”: “If it is not in the house, you can’t eat it.” I decided this in my early thirties (after having four babies): “I can spend the rest of my life debating whether I will or will not consume “x” at any given moment, OR I can decide, as a general rule for my life, that “I want some hope of maintaining a decent weight and figure MORE than I want to consume this “x” at this instant.” After a while it mostly becomes habitual; you develop something of an aversion to your “addiction/fix” and its subsequent guilt: “I am allergic to sweets: they make me break out in fat.” 🙂

    Also, I am not a “legalist”, but this quote came to mind, Luke 16:10:

    10 He that is faithful in that which is least, is faithful also in much; and he that is unjust in the least, is unjust also in much.

    I personally would have a problem with any adult (over 18) who stealth-ate a large carton of ice cream while visiting me and left me to discover that after he was gone. For starters, exactly how stupid does he think I am? “Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.” Yes, I am getting crotchety in my old age. The world is crazy. Prove me wrong.

    • Vanderleun October 2, 2022, 9:45 PM

      I wouldn’t dream of it when you are so utterly right.

      But the ice cream was just short hand for a much larger number of eroded items. Strawberry jam, for instance. Eaten down in a cone from the center in such a way that the jar appears full when there is actually only a thin inner skin of strawberry jam essentially painted around the inside of the jar.

  • AbigailAdams October 3, 2022, 2:12 AM

    Ah, yes, I seem to remember the Scarlet Letter red-stained fingers of the food eroder who consumed the ample (enough dessert for four people) leftover cake from your mom’s 100th birthday party. It was eroded a quarter-inch slice at a time in the stealth and cover of night. The red fingers matched perfectly the color of the buttercream flowers of the vanished cake. This episode occurred after your first publication of this essay and, so, no effort was made to conceal the shameful act.

  • Snakepit Kansas October 3, 2022, 4:41 AM

    My 16 year old son can destroy a half gallon of ice cream in no time. We have dozens of quart bags of ground elk and about once/week we mix that with a bit of ground beef and grill. The leftovers I planned for lunch the next few days only make it about a day. My two kids are eating machines.

    • Mike Austin October 3, 2022, 2:55 PM

      Understood. If I ate today what I ate when I was 20, I would be a male Lizzo—but a white version, of course.

      • Vanderleun October 4, 2022, 1:01 PM

        It will now take years, YEARS!, of intense therapy to expunge that image from my memory.

  • Jeff Brokaw October 4, 2022, 9:50 AM

    Food has fewer calories when consumed in tiny portions, right? Right!

    • Vanderleun October 4, 2022, 1:02 PM

      Absolutely. That’s part of the magic.

    • Brian_E October 4, 2022, 7:13 PM

      I also have it on good authority that the calories don’t count if the food is eaten over the sink, while standing. 😉