Around the House #1: The Last Cookie, or Polite Austerity Measures

Everyone has been at this critical juncture before.

Whether at a simple family gathering, a small party, or just the dinner table, some item of food has become the evening’s entertainment and is quickly disappearing. We’ll go with cookies (in Britain, biscuits). The rapidly diminishing supply has nearly run itself out, and the once-plentiful stockpile has dwindled to a lone survivor, one last bastion of sweet delights before oblivion. Everyone eyes each other nervously, waiting until someone says, “Hey, does anyone else want this last cookie?”

At this point, the headstrong contender has achieved at least partial victory. The others gathered ’round will either lie out of politeness and say, “No, I don’t need any more,” or some brazen and yet-hungry person will say, “Yeah, I’ll eat it if you’re not going to.” While this diminishes the first contender’s victory, what else can the second say when he replies, “Ok, let’s split it in half.” The second contender cannot, in good conscience and politeness, turn down such a magnanimous offer and must be content to only carry off half of the victory after looking like even more of a jerk than the first to speak up.

Yet this is preferable to an uglier turn of events, where those assembled are all so polite that not one soul will take the last cookie for fear of looking like an ill-mannered glutton. Then the last cookie sits, growing colder, drier, and eventually stale as the members of the entourage awkwardly depart, each secretly craving the cookie.

Sometimes the drama is less immediate. It may be a cookie jar, a box of Little Debbie cakes, the last bottle of Ale8-1, or even the last cup of yogurt. The supply is slowly nibbled at over the course of days or even weeks, until finally one is left. Out of politeness, you skip taking it the first time you see one is left, thinking that someone else may appreciate it more. The next day, it still remains. Perhaps the other members of the household haven’t seen it yet. Do you really need the guilt and anguish of knowing you deprived the house of its last tasty offering? You skip it that day as well. You don’t even look in the box the third day, assuming it is empty and someone forgot to throw it away; if not, someone will surely eat it today. On the fourth day, you hesitantly look in the box and note that the item is still there. A moral dilemma now faces you: do you continue to avoid your desired confection/drink/snack out of politeness, or from a purely logical sensibility of pragmatism do you choose to consume it before it goes bad?

Whichever choice you make, ye are surely damned: on the one hand you have Wasted Food if you leave it, and children in some impoverished nation will now starve because of your carelessness and haunt you all the days of your life; yet on the other hand if you take it you have given in to carnal Gluttony for your own selfish gain, and the other members of the household shall surely wail and rend their clothes as they are denied what should have been their rightful inheritance, and soon they shall vow vengeance upon you.

Because of the irrefutable nature of the divine conflict outlined above, this is how I learned to just grab the last cookie the moment I see it and simply assume that no one else wanted it. Life is simpler when you’re eating a cookie.

(photo courtesy of wikimedia commons: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:White_chocolate_chip_cookie.jpeg)