I spend too much time thinking about the vegetables I don’t eat.
This is adapted–barely–from an assignment I had to do for a class, and I had a good time with it, so I’m posting it here. I’ve been tasked with finding the etymology of two random words and several of their strangely nuanced definitions and writing something based on all that. Naturally, my response is to describe the filth that was in my fridge and the tea I tried to make after.
Old English rotian “to decay, putrefy,” from Proto-Germanic *rutjan (source also of Old Saxon roton, Old Norse rotna, Old Frisian rotia, Middle Dutch roten, Dutch rotten, Old High German rozzen “to rot.” The spinach was the first to rot because I never gave it the attention it deserved. It fell into itself and melted, putrefied, a green pool of stagnant, viscous foliage in a clear plastic bag. Then it was time for the blackberries, which, without supervision, had no motivation to remain blackberries at all and instead morphed their plump dark lumps into white, fuzzy, dessicated baby bunnies. The wine, alive by the same force that left its fellows unrecognizable, has been in the fridge since 2008. The tomatoes, in the crisper not quite since the 13th century, were warped beyond themselves, and the name tomato was just as false a description as it would be to call them alive, red, or non-toxic.
Scandinavian origin. Slang noun sense of “rubbish, trash” is from 1848. The tomatoes, the spinach, the collected occupants of my fridge went through a two-part metamorphosis. Starting as food in their prime, vigorous and healthy, then slowly degenerating into respective virulence. Then they became trash. The lives of the items in my fridge are defined by the accuracy of the names they are given: vegetable until that doesn’t fit, rot until they do not belong, and trash because that is what they are destined to become.
Old English melcan, milcian, meolcian “to milk, give milk, suckle,” from Proto-Germanic *melk- “to milk,” to drain. The nutrients which my parents told me makes little kids grow big and strong had long since drained from the milk in the back of my fridge. Any children drinking from this corrupted fluid would do well not to expect any boon to their bones. Any child drinking this milk could reasonably expect never to grow again. The richness had been suckled from the milk by age. Milk, like tea, cucumbers, and children, will grow bitter with time. The milk lingered after its rotten peers were taken. It lingered, hidden, expiration date obscured by a thin yellow crust of calcium.
From PIE root *melg- (see milk (n.)). Figurative sense of “exploit for profit” is first found 1520s though exploitation had long been a tradition before that. Tea is a violent endeavor. First, old leaves and flowers are shredded and imprisoned in a small bag, a most unnatural act. Next, water is put to the flame until it rolls with a series of tiny explosions; imagine if the directions on a dollar store tv dinner said to “heat until exploding,” ludicrous. Finally, the volatile water and plant viscera are joined in a scalding union within a vessel designed to house them without burning the hands of the artisan behind all this violence. Tea is an exploitation, a milking of the physical virtues of its constituents.
Milk and honey is from the Old Testament phrase describing the richness of the Promised Land (Numbers xvi.13, Old English meolc and hunie). I add honey to my tea because I like my mornings to begin with a casual abuse of bee-labor. The honey dissolves, another victim of teatime carnage. There is but one final ingredient to imbue my mug with the playful sensuality of a properly configured cup of tea. My cup will runneth over with milk and honey as was promised by my ignorance. How could I know that there was no milk in my fridge, only something rotten that once called itself milk but would better be named putrescent or trash. I pull from the cold maw of the fridge the carton, moist to the touch and faintly waxy like holding a cold candle covered in a light coat of bacon grease. I crack open the cardboard, and from the yellowed slash puffs the heady aroma of homegrown cheese. I look for a expiration date, but seeing none I take a risk. Milk and honey. I tip the carton, and from it tumbles something chunky, wet, curdled and rolling, loudly slumping into my mug and violently renaming everything it touches to trash.