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Waste Not

May 9, 2009 | by Emuna Braverman

Putting your leftovers to maximum use.

Once the Thanksgiving meal is over and everyone is full beyond satiation, the discussion inevitably leads to... (no, not football games) leftovers. What to do with them? Cooking magazines abound with creative suggestions. Unfortunately most just end up in the trash. A recent study (cited on NPR) suggests that the average American family wastes nearly $600 worth of food per year.

That could feed a lot of hungry mouths. I frequently find myself embarrassed by the amount of food we sweep off the floor after a large Shabbos dinner. And, being Jewish, I often think that these scraps, this "garbage," would have been a meal for my starving brothers and sisters during the Holocaust.

There is a Torah admonition not to be wasteful. I don't think this means we should eat to the point of bursting (there's an admonition against that as well!) but rather that we should make more thoughtful choices about how much food to cook and how much to put on our plates.

I strongly believe in beautifying our Shabbos tables. I like to make new and interesting dishes. The question is how many? How many to make Shabbos seem special? How many to satisfy our family and guests? And how many is overkill?

Just as it is awkward to eat at the home of the very poor -- no one wants to feel that they are literally taking food away from young children -- it is also awkward to serve too much. Everyone may feel obligated (or tempted!) to eat much more that they desire (under the hostess' watchful eye). There is a fine line between graciousness and excess.

If we bought less and cooked less, we could send more funds to help those less fortunate.

Many of us grew up with the stereotypical scolding from our parents to finish everything on our plates because there were children starving in Biafra. There are still children starving -- in America, in Israel -- where over 700,000 children live below the poverty level, in other parts of the world -- none of whom will benefit either from my licking my plate clean or leaving the broccoli untouched. (Actually I like broccoli.)

But perhaps if we bought less and cooked less, we could send more funds to help those less fortunate. At the very least, we should try to reduce our waste.

I personally relish the challenge of leftovers. I feel inordinately (and inappropriately) proud of myself when I make a successful second meal out of them. In fact, sometimes it's so good I choose to make that dish all over again, starting from scratch.

Not being wasteful requires (as does everything else) consciousness and discipline. The narrator on the NPR show suggested that we often buy fruits and vegetables at the beginning of the week with very good intentions. Then we get busy and tired and we make or eat easy prepared foods, ignoring our fresh produce until an unpleasant odor pervades our refrigerator.

The thoughtful approach is to plan menus, and even snacks, ahead of time and not just grab whatever is available as exhaustion sets in.

The thoughtful approach is to shop with this in mind and to try to cook smaller amounts. I do think that cooking for our families and friends is an expression of love. But this is one area where quality supersedes quantity. (Except with regards to college kids and yeshiva boys.)

For argument's sake, let's assume that we are not the average family. We are all, obviously, above average. So perhaps we only waste $500 worth of food per year.

Let's shop and cook more efficiently (it will probably be healthier too) and write that $500 check for those hungry children now.

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