My parents keep a packet of shrimp ramen in our pantry. No one really knows how it got there, or when it appeared, and it’s always shoved carelessly to the side when someone sifts through the cabinet in search of a snack. Our family has never been the biggest fan of shrimp, considering we hold our noses while speed-walking through the seafood aisle of grocery stores. But despite its seemingly useless existence, this one almost-definitely-expired packet of shrimp ramen has moved across four houses with us to be replaced in its lone spot in the pantry every time. Occasionally the label is noticed, and someone reappears waving their finding in one hand, yelling, “Whose shrimp ramen is this?”
Usually the response is a chorus of, “I hate shrimp!” “Shrimp is gross!” “EW.” “Who would ruin perfectly good ramen with shrimp?”
And even though it is never claimed or wanted, the shrimp ramen is not thrown in the trash. That would be wasteful, after all. No, instead it is tossed back into the cabinet to waste away, to slowly crumble into tiny pieces of shrimp-flavored noodle. As the months come and go, the full box of chicken ramen sitting next to the lone packet is slowly depleted and then replaced, going through its life cycle with some semblance of continuity. The shrimp ramen sits next to the box in the “noodle” section of the pantry, shoved just slightly behind it so the packet is only ever rediscovered in moments of snacking panic. “Is this what you’re looking for?” The lone packet asks as you shift a box aside and light dawns over its wrinkled, fading label. “Is it finally my time?”
“Where are the fucking Cheez-its?” You say, and it is plunged into darkness once more.
The thing is, this shrimp ramen was bought with a purpose. Someone went to the grocery store and searched through the aisles, pushing items into the cart with a sweep of their hand. Was this packet of shrimp ramen accidentally tossed in, unknowingly scanned and paid for at the checkout? Or did someone in my shrimp-repulsed family say, “Hmmm… I’ll try this out. You know what, I think I’ll try some shrimp ramen. Just one shrimp ramen. I’m going to pay 57 cents for this single packet of shrimp ramen, and by Jesus, I’m going to try this out. I love shrimp. I love ramen.” However, the only likely culprit would be my shrimp-loving mother, who is utterly repulsed by the idea of eating pure MSG noodles. This purchase just wouldn’t be in character with her doctrine. So who in my family bought this packet of shrimp ramen and let it waste away in the pantry for years? Do they hide their actions out of shame, or out of sheer ignorance of what they have done?
Be as it may, the shrimp ramen has become a symbol of enigma in our household. It is a constant reminder of my mom’s favorite meal-time line, “Finish your dinner, because there are starving children in Africa.”
With the classic responses: “Mom, that’s kinda racist.”
And, “What about that shrimp ramen? Would you eat that, Mom?”
Silence then falls over the dinner table like a curtain, obscuring all of the sounds that may have followed her protest. The quiet chink of silverware against plates resumes, and the shrimp ramen is left unresolved, unspoken. We all know what it means to waste something– we have wasted people, moments, toys, words, preteen makeup kits. Everyone has their own shrimp ramen. Some people like to refer to it as the skeletons in their closet, if those skeletons were made of shrimp-flavored noodles. For my family, we all share in the guilt of wasting the shrimp ramen, though maybe none of us are personally responsible for its existence or even its purchase. Do we hide the guilt, deny wrongdoing, point to the moments when we did the right thing? Sure, we wasted one packet of ramen– but look at all the times we didn’t. Look at all the times we scraped our plates clean of food, we recycled, we picked up the trash on the sidewalk. The shrimp ramen is only a small mistake that time refuses to sweep away, or maybe it’s just the unbreakable chemical makeup of manufactured noodles.
I wonder if we could take back the wasted moments. I could go home and reach into the pantry, put a pot of water on the stove to boil, pry open the plastic packet to finally face the crumbled insides. I could bravely pour the finished product into a bowl and reach in with a spoon, enter into the unknown territory of shrimp ramen. Maybe I would even like it. But I know I won’t do any of it. I’ll go home and reach into the pantry, put a pot of water on the stove to boil, pry open the plastic packet of chicken ramen and let the pleasant aroma of MSG waft through the air. In a few months, I might rediscover the shrimp ramen in the pantry and think back to the moments I’ve wasted. The people I could’ve tried harder with, the adventures I could’ve had, the things I could’ve loved. One day I might stop wasting so many of my opportunities. But I’ll never eat that ramen. There are some barriers that you just cannot surpass, and I fucking hate shrimp.