Organic Family Matters

A tale of broken-down food scraps and parents’ wills.

May 15, 2012

Why, why, why did my parents throw away the compost bin?

One spring weekend when I was visiting home in the suburbs of L.A., my sister and I decided to set up a compost bin for my parents. We thought they could use it for their lush backyard garden. The bin was humble: a trash can with holes cut into the bottom and the lid. The location was discreet: the furthest, deepest, darkest corner of our backyard. The plan was straightforward: Fill the bin with vegetable food scraps and yard waste, keep it slightly moist and my sister would drop by every three weeks to turn it. After some time, our parents would have beautiful compost to spread between their prized cacti and fruit trees.

Four months into the project, my sister calls with irritating but unsurprising news. “You know, they threw the compost bin out,” she said, nonchalantly, “I don’t really know what the hell their problem is. I mean, Mom used the compost — she said she loved it — but then they threw the bin out.”

I could have predicted the conflict between sentiment and action, because Sandhya/Sandy and Krishna/Kris are always at war.

Let me introduce you to my two sets of parents. Sandhya eagerly uses the first (and only) batch of our backyard compost to fertilize her stunning cactus garden and is excited at how her plants flourish as a result; Sandy tosses and turns at night, overcome with images of stinking putrefaction within shouting distance of her immaculate home.

Krishna stares down into the compost bin with pure wonder, amazed by the incredible sophistication of the natural world; Kris shudders to imagine all the microscopic harbingers of disease and infection that scurry about in that pile of rotting vegetables.

Sandhya and Krishna hope romantically of returning to the green ways of their homeland, while Sandy and Kris, their suburban alter egos, possess all the anxiety, sterility and brute force of the First World. Do they see my compost bin as a fight to tame the savage within themselves?

I demanded my sister put my parents on the phone and the following dialogue ensues:

Me: What is your problem?

Mother (innocently): What?

Me (yelling): Why did you throw that bin out? I thought you loved the compost for your stupid garden!

Mother: It was nice. The plants really liked it — they grew so fast. But it is disgusting. And I can’t be walking all the way to the back of the yard every time I need to throw something away — like I have nothing better to do!

Father: We know it’s a good thing to do, but we don’t want it. It’s unhygienic. It’s probably full of pathogens.

Mother: And it has a smell.

Me: Are you kidding me? It’s a natural process! And why do you two fancy-pants always act like you didn’t grow up on farms in India?

Father: I fled that country — disease is not a joke. You can die there just from eating a banana.

Mother: You know your father was in a sanatorium for a year with TB. And his own mother did not visit him even once!

Me: Yeah, yeah, I’ve heard that story a million times. You guys buy manure from Home Depot and spread it around the plants with your bare hands — you know that is shit, right?

Mother: We use gloves! And that manure mix comes in a bag!

Father: Yes, it comes in a sealed bag.

Me: Look, this is good for the environment. Do you know the amount of greenhouse gases formed by …

Mother: Fine, fine, we are awful people. If you care so much about the environment, you do it and stink up your own house.

Me: God, you all are a hot mess.

Mother (with agreeable sarcasm): Yes, yes, we are two of the hottest messes.

To tell you the truth, I was not really surprised they threw it out. For my parents, cleanliness and sterility trump all else. It’s a way to demonstrate control — control over all the things they had little power over in their childhoods in India, like disease, fractured families, oppressive parents and finances. If attaining world peace required us to not bathe for a week, my parents would cry out, “Sorry, Iraq!” and leap into a hot shower with glee.

So don’t mock me if I consider five handfuls of compost a victory. I take what I can get from these people.


Meghana Reddy is affiliated with The Misprint (, a publication filled with nonsense rubbish for the global citizen.

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