It occurs to me that I’ve perhaps been sloppy in my use of the term “leftovers” in this blog. For me, leftovers are those little bits and pieces that you don’t eat (be they home-cooked or from take-out that just hasn’t been finished). Sometimes, even though I’m almost sure that I’m not going to use something, I still put it into the refrigerator. I’m particularly prone to do this when eating out–I really don’t like wasting food. I guess it’s a compulsion on my part–a bit like stashing things in the attic “just in case” I might need it in the distant future.
Planned extra servings that don’t get eaten at the first sitting are not leftovers in the sense that I’m thinking of them–leftovers are those things that get thrown out after they have occupied space in the fridge for a while and come to my attention only because I’m looking for the container that they are in, need more space in the fridge to put something else in there, or they are threatening to crawl out of the container and take over the house. The photograph at the left is what most leftovers look like in my house!
Some of the statistics in Just Food about just how much food is wasted by the average American are appalling. I think that it’s particularly easy for those of us cooking for one to contribute to this, partly because shopping in the supermarket is so conducive to buying more than you need for one person, and you stash it in the fridge…and eventually throw it out. One of the benefits of shopping at the farmers’ market is that you’re more likely to be able to buy just the amount that you need, though not always. Sometimes greens are bunched or items, like corn, are sold as “six for $4”. At least at the farmers’ market it’s likely that an understanding farmer will let you buy only what you need…personally, I’m happy to pay the price for the unit and take only what I will use!
Some foods (e.g. chili con carne) are very unlikely to make it to my “leftover” category even though made in large quantities. I do sometimes make extra servings so that I can used the in different dishes in the coming days by adding different seasonings, adding condiments, or using in a different way–by doing a little improvisation. While I’m doing single-serving cooking, I want to waste as little as possible yet have a varied and healthy diet. Perhaps working in the fields, and planning how much to plant, and harvesting the produce makes me more aware of the effort and resources that go into the food that I eat–it’s awareness that does not come with picking out produce in the supermarket. Whether we are cooking for one or for four, we all need to reduce the amount of food that we waste.
We need to explore alternative buying strategies, learn multiple uses for products that we use. That yogurt that we usually have for breakfast can be turned into a delightful dessert with some fruit and a bit of honey–it’s all about improvisation and thinking outside the box; not needing a recipe to use that last ear of corn or the last of that bunch of greens–had you thought about putting them into a smoothie?