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Why have leftovers lost their appeal?

By on January 31, 2018 in Columnist with 0 Comments

Bonnie OrrMoaned at many dinner tables is the familiar chant, “Not leftovers again!”

Leftover food served at a second meal is a common kitchen regimen — or it has been until recently. (Do you remember when Dagwood used to make the midnight raids on the refrigerator?)

My interest in leftovers was peaked when I read articles about the amount of food wasted in the US. Currently, an estimated 24 percent of food rots in the refrigerator.

Previously, saving food was seen as a virtue, and this is why restaurants began to offer “doggy bags” and developed special take-home containers.

I asked a variety of people of different ages about leftovers and have concluded that the aversion to eating leftovers is based on age and eating habits.

People generally agreed that a leftover sandwich that had become soggy was truly not palatable — nor was salad with salad dressing.

Many folks felt that Asian food made with pungent ingredients such as fish sauce never made it out of the dark recesses of the refrigerator.

Unsurprisingly, not a single person threw out leftover pizza.

People over 50 indicated that leftovers are convenient because a satisfying meal can be served in minutes by merely reheating it.

However, dishes such as stew or soup became undesirable as they reappeared at too many meals in succession, even though the flavor improved with re-heating.

The worst case is when one tires of the dish and freezes the remainder — the memory of the saturation dooms it to remain in the freezer until the freezer is cleaned out.

Some people confessed they purchase food with a sense of purposely eating healthier — often fueled by guilt of not eating balanced meals. Some purchases are made with enthusiastic inspiration to cook a special recipe — yet, the ingredients linger in the fridge until the inspiration is gone and the ingredients have liquefied.

During the last 25 years, food has become plentiful and relatively inexpensive. The average person spends only 10 percent of his income on food, compared to 40 percent a century ago. (Of course, people with marginal incomes spend a larger portion of their money on food).

Helen Veit in An Economic History of Leftovers, noted that throwing away food is a prerogative of financial security.

Why is it that leftovers have lost their appeal, especially to people under 40 years old?

The number of single person households is about 27 percent. Some people feel it is difficult to cook for one person. The excess, unused or uneaten food is tossed in the trash and never has an opportunity to appear as a leftover.

Food is always available; why should it be stored for another meal?

Eating the same meal again makes life too monotonous.

A number of anonymous containers stored in the refrigerator can be difficult to identify.

Used clothing from thrift shops is acceptable, but taking “used food” to work for lunch smacks of avarice.

Most often, despite best intentions of eating the contents of the take-away container, the food molders away until an eater loses interest.

I asked people why prepared food carried home does not reappear.

Apparently, there are many reasons: the food is mixed together in the container and no longer appears appetizing. There is a fear of the food having become contaminated with germs or has spoiled on its short ride home to the refrigerator.

The most prevalent reason people gave for not eating leftover takeaway food is that people, particularly people under 40 did not know how to reheat it. The microwave often changes the texture of food. The oven or toaster oven takes too much time. The skillet burns the food.

Many people who purchase prepared meals from the deli section don’t cook enough to know how to reheat the various parts of the meal, and often it is too much trouble to use several different containers and methods to re-heat the food.

Worse, it is not good cold, and even if it is re-heated, it is not the consistency, texture nor appearance of the original dish. Mostly, it is easier to buy more food than it is to figure out how to reheat the remainders.

And perhaps since it takes time to reheat and wash the dishes, it is more convenient to nosh on pre-packaged snacks when feeling a bit hungry.

Our attitudes toward leftovers are as varied as our lifestyles.

An unexpected outcome of my conversations about leftovers was the number of people, both those who used leftovers and those who eschewed them, who mentioned general food waste in the world.

One friend mentioned the continuing conundrum of up to 30 percent of produce is wasted worldwide between harvest and distribution.

Several people mentioned the discomfort of eating in a restaurant and seeing vast amounts of food left on a plate that was destined for the garbage.

I know there are a number of groups that collect and distribute safe and usable food from grocery stores and food processors in NCW.

Over half the people I talked to expressed a concern about the number of people going hungry even in NCW, even while so much food is thrown away.

Bonnie Orr — the dirt diva — cooks and gardens in East Wenatchee.

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