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The obligatory leftovers

Koraly's complaint

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17 February 2016

We all love our family gatherings, and our cousin get-togethers, and Christmas and Easter. It's even nice to touch base at a mnimosino of a loved one who has passed away. But what all these events have in common is what comes at the end: leftovers.

We've all been there. It's drawing close to when you want to leave the gathering. There are still heaps of people around and you can't be bothered going around and saying bye to every person personally, kissing them all on the cheek, because you already did that when you arrived. (If you got away with it on entrance, then lucky you!) So you say 'bye, everyone, bye!' and you blow a kiss to the room and then your aunty or cousin or whoever is throwing the gathering grabs you by the forearm and says the dreaded words we all don't want to hear: "Wait, take a plate with you!"

And you cringe. And then the debate begins. You've already eaten so much the thought of more is nauseating.

"It's okay, Thia, I'm not going to eat it."
"But who's going to eat it? I can't eat all this. Come!"

As your thia or whoever is hosting the gathering is dragging you to the kitchen you're trying to think positively. Maybe it's good leftovers. If it's food, and it's food you liked, it could spare you making dinner the following night. But chances are low, as that kind of food, the gold of all food, that's usually kept by the host so they don't have to cook dinner, and rightly so, because they went to all the trouble of catering.

As you get dragged to the kitchen you know that you're going to get given stuff you don't want. It's inevitable.

There's usually a little tiff as the plastic take-away plate gets brought out.

"I don't really want anything, Thia. I'm okay."
"No, no, just a few things."
Then the dumping begins. Two spanakopites (not so bad). Two pieces of galaktopoureko (no!). A wedge of chocolate cake (no! no!). Two cupcakes (please stop!). And one by one the sweets slowly start resembling a mountain - a mountain of cake - and all you can think is 'there goes the last fortnight of watching what I eat and gym workouts. Gone'.

Then the arguing begins. "That's enough, Thia," you protest. "I won't eat it."

But she ignores you, in fact, she pushes on. There may even be a little scuffle. But you know your Thia is not going to accept no because she doesn't want all the cakes either! It's as if you haven't said anything at all. She keeps going, and adding, making the mountain higher and higher.

"And just a scoop of trifle …"
You smile between your teeth (because that's what we do) when she finally wraps it in foil, like an unwanted Christmas present. "Thanks, Thia."
"You're welcome."

So you take the plate home, stuff it into your overweight fridge. And you eat a bit here, a bit there, usually late at night at a time when you know you should be going to bed but for some reason you stay awake, and you know this very hit of sugar will keep you up even longer, but your body ingested so many sweets at the gathering that it's expecting its next hit. Late night lonely eating is what I call it. We all experience it, even when we're married (maybe more so then!).

The chances you'll get through the whole plate are low. You might get to day five and call your mum, ask her if it's still okay to eat the trifle. But you'll inevitably get to the point where the plastic take-away plate with the leftovers must go into the bin. When you remove it from the fridge, you feel bad. Really bad. All that hard work all your aunties and cousins put into making the sweets. All that back pain and complaining and cramps. It feels so wrong. Like you're throwing away your culture. An awful feeling. You sigh when you throw it in. You feel like the worst person ever.

And then you might get annoyed and ask why!? Why is it that we make so many cakes when we have gatherings? Are we so afraid that we may not have enough cake? I challenge you to think of an occasion where there has not been enough cake at a family gathering. Has there ever been a time there were no leftover cakes?

Why does migrant culture over-cater so much? The Aussies do their gatherings BYO, and we go to the other extreme. How many times have I been somewhere and looked at the cakes and thought there is one cake here for every person. One entire cake. The migrants arrived here skinny and over the years they've blown up like balloons from all the cakes and the sugar. Our culture is counterintuitive - it wants to be healthy yet it has a perpetuating cycle of food, food, food, which leads to so much waste. Do the wogs ever let us get thin? We can't! We can't get thin because every so often there's a gathering. The Christmas period is the worst. The worst.

Enough is enough. Stop making so many cakes you'll end up throwing out. Why do you make so many? Is it because you think people will judge you if you don't bring a cake? Judgment that leads to leftovers I feel obliged to take because if I don't I feel guilty. Are we overcompensating because of the guilt and nostalgia of the past? What is going on here?

*Koraly Dimitriadis is a poet, writer, actor, performer and filmmaker and the author of Love & F--k Poems/Ποιήματα για Αγάπη και για Γα--σι.

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