No Morsel Left Behind: one of my fave enewsletters on why we’ve got to use what we’ve got

I love the Broiler Room. I loved them when they were f-bomb dropping cookbook writers, and I love getting their exhortations to cook, in my in-box, because cooking requires it’s own level of literacy and it can be freaking well intimidating, and it’s so nice to have funny kind people encouraging you to go for it.

Here’s their latest free email newsletter, which says “don’t waste food” in such an entertaining way, it’s worth tucking into. (Curse-word alert. They do drop a few f-bombs.)

As long as humans have been preparing food, there’ve been leftovers. Most uneaten food was probably an accident but cleaning our plates has been the goal since the dawn of time. Last year, scientists discovered what appears to be the oldest evidence of prepared, cooked food ever in Northern Iraq. At the Shanidar Cave site, about 500 miles north of Baghdad, the caves are dotted with ancient hearths and in the ashen remains scientist found a sort of charred pancake made of soaked and pounded pulses, seeds, and grasses thought to be 70,000 years old. The number of steps and sophistication it took to prepare food like this was previously thought to be impossible for our ancient ancestors. And just this year scientists in Portugal discovered caves just outside Lisbon where they suspect Neanderthals were cooking crabs at least 90,000 years ago based on the fucking mess they left behind. Not only does this show that our ancient relatives had complex cooking techniques, but more importantly, they also had leftovers.

Safe food preservation was one of humanity’s biggest problems throughout history. Nobody wants food poisoning. Ancient humans would smoke, salt, and submerge meat from large kills into freshwater pools all in an effort to make the feast last longer into the leaner months. People in Ireland buried butter in bogs, nature’s fridge, that we’re still digging up more than 3,500 years later. Pickles, jams, and cheese are all methods of preserving perishable foods that humans loved so much that they’ve stood the test of time.  Ancient Greeks and Romans would cart ice and snow down from mountain tops, wrap it in straw, and use it to line cellars to slow food spoilage. Hell, here in the US we still had ice delivery men doing basically the same shit into the 20th century. It wasn’t until the 1940’s that at least half of American homes had refrigerators and the problem of food waste really got started. The widespread abundance that followed World War II in North America made eating leftovers seem optional for probably the first time in human history. In fact, the idea of “leftovers” as a category of food barely existed before the 20th century. As incomes rose throughout the century andthe cost of food plummeted,  the luster came right off leftovers. We need to cut this shit out.

Each year, 119 billion pounds of food is wasted in the US. 23% of the food waste in our homes isn’t bagged lettuce or forgotten bananas, it’s fully prepared food. We let whole meals go to waste instead of doing what we’ve done for most of human history: eaten what we have. So, if you’re one of those people who thinks they hate leftovers, it’s time to reconsider. We have some tips that might help.

1. If you live in a smaller household/single, consider only making half the servings the recipe calls for to cut down on waste. If you don’t need chili for 10, don’t fucking make that much.

2. If you aren’t going to eat it, freeze it immediately. This works best for soups, pastas, and casseroles. Defrosting a ready-to-eat, home cooked meal always feels like a treat compared to heating up the same stew you’ve had for 3 nights in a row. Future you will be grateful.

3. When in doubt, make it a burrito or pasta with the leftovers. You’d be surprised how many meals can get piled into a tortilla, covered in salsa, and taste incredible. Or if that’s not a perfect fit, toss your leftovers with some pasta or puree them to make a sauce. We’ve got a guide if you need some help. 

And this seems obvious but trust your gut. Our ancestors spent millennia honing our ability to detect spoiled and unsafe food to keep us from getting sick. You have that ability so put it to use. You can taste when something is funky. Condensation inside the container of leftovers is not a sign that something is bad (looking at you, former roommate), but simply that you put something into the fridge while it was still warm. If it’s been less than a couple days, the food has been refrigerated, and there are no visual signs like mold, weird smells or tastes then the food is fine. Less than three days? They’re fine and you need to stop making excuses for why you like lighting money on fire. Ending food waste is one of the best things we can do both for the planet and to end hunger.

We produce more than enough food to feed everyone on the planet but access to food is not equitable.

Obviously, the entire system needs an overhaul to better disperse global food production but until then why not start with what’s in your immediate control?

Eat your goddamn leftovers or stash them in a bog for future generations to study. But from here on out those should be your only two options.

Same time next week, k?

Michelle (and Matt)

If this is up your alley, you could subscribe here

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