It's the greatest common denominator. More than sports, more than the weather, more than politics, people like to chew the fat about food.
So when we asked to take a peek inside singles' refrigerators, we got letters. And not just from singles; married folks as well couldn't resist the opportunity to wax poetic about slice-and-bake cookie dough and leftover lasagna.
Our shamelessly unscientific survey produced shamelessly unscientific results.
First, the stereotype we expected to confirm--i.e., that the average single's cooler cools a lot more wide, open space than it does perishables--failed to solidify. Just about every contributor reported a well-stocked refrigerator, albeit with long-forgotten heads of lettuce and jars of mustard.
Second, most grocery lists included a bottle of wine or two--"just in case Mr. Right happens by," Newport Beach resident Katherine Johansen explained in her letter.
Third, an array of salad dressings lined many a rack. "Every time I go shopping to make dinner for someone, I can't remember whether I already have salad dressing," said Ellen, of Irvine, who preferred that we not use her last name. "The half-empty bottles just keep on accumulating."
And fourth, at least one container that touts on its label the word diet seems a requisite in singles' refrigerators. Inventories abounded with diet margarine, diet mayonnaise, diet soda, diet sour cream. Oh, and lite beer.
Jackie Valle beat her competitors hands-down in the diet soda category. The Santa Ana real estate agent counted 67 cans of Diet Coke, 22 cans of Diet Mandarin Orange Slice and nine cans of Diet Pepsi. "I am not a soft-drink freak," she promised. "With all the recent sales on Coke, etc., I guess I got a little carried away!"
Lean Cuisine and Weight Watchers TV dinners were a recurring theme in freezer compartments. "I have a Weight Watchers lasagna alongside a carton of Breyer's butter almond ice cream. Now, there's a contradiction," said Gergory Brown, 31, of Fountain Valley.
Brown, the manager of a mortgage banking loan office, revealed that he houses a virtual cocktail lounge in his refrigerator. "Let's see: frozen margarita mix, mai tai mix, pina colada mix, apricot brandy, Roses Lime Juice for Tequila Sunrises, three beers," he tabulated. "Then I have a one-gallon jug of Almaden chablis I stole from the company picnic. When it's free, you can't be picky."
He also uncovered countless little packages of catsup, mustard and hot sauce--remnants of fast-food meals. "I'll never use them, but it seems so wasteful to just throw them out," he said.
Squirreled away in a far corner of Brown's bachelor fridge is a can of peaches that, he predicted, "will probably still be there when my refrigerator is rusted and sitting in a junkyard."
Johansen, 28, who recorded the wine and brie she had tucked away "just in case" a chance for romance knocked on her door, later said in an interview, "You know what's really sad? They're still there. And the brie is getting ripe at this point.
"I had a date last Saturday, and I thought, 'Oh, boy, I can put this wine to use.' But then he asked, 'Do you have any beer?' I gave him the one token beer I keep on hand for high-class guys like himself."
Johansen, who was a nutrition major in college, fills her refrigerator with such healthful consumables as tofu, carrots, lettuce and low-fat milk. "That way, when I go on a binge, I don't feel guilty afterward," she said.
"When I have something fattening in the house, it just haunts me until I wolf it down. The other night I had a friend over so I ordered a pizza, but he didn't want any. So as soon as he left, I ate the whole thing."
Another Newport Beach resident, Marie Contratto, keeps a bottle of "good chardonnay" around not for Mr. Right, but for herself. "I have a glass with dinner every night," said the 50-year-old sales manager. "It's my compensation for a hard day of work."
Paul Kiler, 28, a professional photographer, shares an apartment with three other bachelors in Fountain Valley. In his allotted territory of the fridge, he stows tortillas, salsa, tamales, chicken franks, bologna, American cheese, Pepsi, wine, Hungry Man chicken pot pie and sugar cookie dough.
As for the obligatory diet item, Kiler slipped under the wire with one Weight Watchers chicken enchilada.
While taking inventory, Kiler discovered a rotten red bell pepper. "I don't pay attention to what's in my refrigerator," he said. "I'm out of town a lot, so I often come home to spoiled fruits and vegetables."
Kiler admitted that he isn't much of a chef and that he frequently eats out or picks up a pizza to go. Does he occasionally cook for dates?
"I would if I ever had one," Kiler lamented.
Ellen, 30, a political consultant, confessed to harboring a Christmas fruitcake in her refrigerator. "I'm the kind of person who hates to throw things away," she said. "I'll put one tiny portion of leftovers in a Tupperware container and watch it turn green."