THE DECLINE OF LEFTOVERS – BY ELLIN CURLEY

Leftovers aren’t sexy. Throwing them out is not considered morally or ecologically wrong by most Americans. This has created a garbage crisis in this country. Americans throw away 27 MILLION tons of food each year. The average person wastes 3.5 POUNDS of food each week. This habit clogs landfills, generates greenhouse gases and costs the economy approximately 144 billion dollars a year.

 Leftovers are now the largest source of edible food waste in American homes. There are two major reasons why people throw out food. One is that people stash leftovers in Tupperware containers that get pushed to the back of the fridge. Then they’re forgotten about until they’ve gone bad. Not much we can do about the forgetting factor. But the other reason is that people just don’t like eating leftovers.

We need to bring leftovers back into favor in order to save the planet! Apparently, leftovers were held in much higher esteem before the 1960’s. Being frugal and saving food was actually considered patriotic during WWII. But then it got very cheap to buy lunch instead of brown bagging it. It also got cheaper to order out or buy something new for dinner rather than eating that two-day old pot roast again. So use of leftovers has been on the decline for a long time.

I happen to love leftovers. I love eating cold meat, plain or in a sandwich. In high school, I’d eat leftovers like pasta for breakfast.

When I was a young housewife with two kids, I was very organized about shopping and cooking. I did full menus for the week along with a shopping list of all the necessary ingredients. I always incorporated the leftover meats and vegetables into the weekly meal plan. I scoured magazines and cookbooks for recipes that could use already cooked meats. Curries, stews and casseroles all work very well with leftover chicken, pork or lamb. I also often threw leftover meats into a tomato sauce and served them over pasta.

Tom does not love leftovers. I have to go all out to dress them up if I want him to eat them. I’ve gotten pretty good at fooling him. I don’t always tell him in advance that he’s eating Tuesday’s pork chops or Wednesday’s chicken breast. If he compliments the meal, then I’ll spring it on him.

I also try to freeze leftovers that I think will go bad in the frig. But I have to admit that I often forget about them in the freezer. When I rediscover them, freezer burn has set in. So, while I do try to waste as little food as possible, I don’t always succeed.

This is actually an important issue. People need to change their attitudes towards leftovers and become more aware of the problem of food waste. Unfortunately, today there are a few other issues competing for attention from the media and the population. Maybe when we have a new president and a people oriented government again, we can afford to turn out attention to things like food waste on a national scale. The sooner the better.

32 thoughts on “THE DECLINE OF LEFTOVERS – BY ELLIN CURLEY”

    1. I have to disguise leftovers to get Tom to eat them. But I grew up in a wealthy household and we always ate leftovers. We even cooked extra food for meals so we would have leftovers to eat. We would also eat dinner leftovers for lunch. Or for midnight snacks. Go figure!

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    1. Some foods actually improve from sitting in the frig for a day or two. And some foods are great to eat cold. Any meats are good cold in a sandwich. I cook some stews and casseroles a day early so they can ‘rest’ overnight and deepen in flavor.

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  1. I don’t mind eating leftovers which is just as well as I live alone. I am happy to eat the same meal two days in a row and there is always the freezer. it’s nice to have something you can reheat on days when you come home too tired to think about cooking.

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    1. We often cook more food than we need so we can put another meal away in the frig or freezer. It’s great to be able to take a day off from cooking and reach into the freezer. It saves time and food. It seems like a no brainer.

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      1. BUT! are amounts of food cooked, in excess, especially to store portions, in the freezer, for another meal, really considered “leftovers”? Isn’t it just preparing more than one meal to save having to cook it again? Leftovers, IMO, are just “used” food, stuff that hasn’t been eaten at a particular sitting and then put away to finish the job later. I’m just sayin’.

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  2. My husband doesn’t like leftovers either which strikes me as odd because he grew up eating them (maybe that’s why.) The kids and I will eat leftovers for days. I’ll send them in school lunch in the Hydroflask thermos so it stays warm. I think it’s great.

    What helps me be mindful of not wasting food, is seeing so many homeless people around Honolulu. So many people would LOVE to have a warm meal-leftover or not. Why are so many of us too snobby to eat leftovers when really we are just blessed to have a hot meal!

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      1. People who throw out masses of food should be shamed into donating it or eating it! It’s an outrage that in this day and age, some people have so much and others have so little.

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    1. Wasting food has social implications too, as you point out. I’m happy to see that supermarkets and restaurants are making an effort these days to direct some of their unsold, leftover food to hungry people in the neighborhood. There is so much waste and so much hunger, it should be easy and expected that organizations would crop up to help funnel the excess food to the people who need it.

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      1. Restaurants also serve larger than necessary portions. The “American meal” so to speak, where the quality of same is often measured by quantity. Many is the time I’ve heard someone refer to a meal as “getting ones money’s worth.” But what did it taste like? Here in lies one of the worst sources of waste. Remember when your mom would quip that “your eyes are larger than your stomach.” Welcome to America!

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  3. Leftover’s are how we make it thru the week,we don’t waste food in my house,it makes me sad to see all that food go to waste when someone else could eat it,even me or you,people need to slow down and check your fridge everyday to see what is in it that you can use,and keep leftovers in your mind,and use them up.

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    1. One of the big problems is that refrigerators are so large, that food gets lost in the back. Out of sight out of mind is the real culprit in my house. I just forget that I carefully put something away to eat again. By the time I rediscover it, it’s gone bad. I feel terrible about it and try to stack the leftovers in the front of the frig so I can see them whenever I open the door. But it doesn’t always work.

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      1. Sometimes, I look at an old, newly recovered container. If I can’t remember when I originally cooked it, I just know that it’s going to be ugly inside. Unless it is an expensive container, I won’t even open it. I toss it, container and all. It might have legs and try to get away.

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    2. My goal is to try to tailor the amounts to just us, or maybe us plus one lunch. I’m getting better at “right-sized” meals. Some food is meant for multi meals, like tonight’s chili will be at least two meals and maybe a lunch, too.

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    1. There’s just two of us but we make large pots of spaghetti sauce with meatballs and sausage. We eat it over several days and also freeze a portion for later. That is one thing that never goes to waste in our house! Same with casseroles and stews. The problem is the little piece of meat or the half portion of potato or vegetable that’s left waiting to be eaten. I have pot luck nights when I put out all the bits and pieces I can find in the frig and that is dinner. Tom doesn’t love it, but he always finds something to eat.

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