Kathy Manos Penn is a native of the “Big Apple,” who settled in the “Peach City” – Atlanta. A former English teacher now happily retired from a corporate career in communications, she writes a weekly column for the Dunwoody Crier and the Highlands Newspaper. Read her blogs and columns and purchase her books, “The Ink Penn: Celebrating the Magic in the Everyday” and “Lord Banjo the Royal Pooch,” on her website theinkpenn.com or Amazon.
Kathy Manos Penn with Lord Banjo
If you eat leftovers, you may be in the minority. I was astounded when I saw this headline: "Food is so cheap, Americans have stopped eating leftovers." First I thought, "Seriously? We eat leftovers all the time." Next, before I even read the article, I thought, "Well, I hear many Americans don't cook, so how can they have leftovers to eat?"
The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), an environmental group, conducted a study to determine how much food we waste across America. They asked households to track the food they threw away and went so far as to get permission to check the respondents' trash cans. I guess we can't be trusted to answer food-waste questions honestly.
Reading that the average person throws out 3.5 pounds of food each week was meaningless to me until that is, I pictured a 3.5-pound beef roast.
Still, the statistic that stuck with me was that 23% of the waste was leftovers-not banana peels and apple cores. The study defined leftovers as prepared food "from any source." That explains how you can have leftovers in the fridge even if you don't cook. Think meals from the local deli, Chinese takeout, and doggie bags.
Color me an oddball. I cook most nights, and at least two nights a week, I prepare dinner intending to have enough left for a second meal. Most weeks I routinely grill or bake chicken as the main course and use the leftover chicken in a big salad later. I make coleslaw or cook butter beans or Brussel sprouts, planning to have them as sides more than once. In the colder months, I make soup or chili or stew to eat two nights and often have enough left over to freeze to eat again a few weeks later.
The researchers found that many of us forget about our Tupperware containers and wind up throwing out spoiled food. I admit I've been guilty of that oversight, and if you've ever worked in an office, you probably remember the periodic call to clean out the refrigerator filled to the gills with weeks-old containers of unidentifiable mush.
The other reason for ditching leftovers appears to be boredom with eating the same dish several times. My husband more so than I draws the line at two times for a meal, and it's usually only something like vegetable soup or chili that I try to push on him for a third time.
I most often throw away leftovers when poor planning results in too much for one meal but not enough for two. Even then, I will save enough for one lunch serving rather than toss it. I have no problem combining rice, chicken, and veggies in a container for one more meal.
Perhaps because I eat to live, not the other way around, I feel slightly guilty when I end up throwing away food. I'm fortunate that, for me, it has never been about the wasted money; it's about planning on leftovers, so I don't have to cook a complete meal every single night.
The NRDC envisions a "love your leftovers" campaign to reduce food waste and clogged landfills. During WWI and WWII, our government encouraged us to eat leftovers. The message back then? It's "morally wrong to waste food, " an idea I think translated into our mothers referencing starving children in China to get us to clean our plates.
Gee, does this mean that we leftover lovers are somehow morally superior to non-leftover-loving folks? I can see the banner now: Be a better person-eat leftovers.
Kathy Manos Penn is a Sandy Springs resident. Find her latest book, "Lord Banjo the Royal Pooch," and her collection of columns, "The Ink Penn: Celebrating the Magic in the Everyday," on Amazon. Contact her at email@example.com, and follow her on Facebook, www.facebook.com/KathyManosPennAuthor/.