I clip shoots from my rosemary plant and sauté the spiky, needle-like leaves with onions, butter and wine to make a mushroom barley soup my family loves. The scent, fragrant and alluring, makes inroads to heaven. We eat it all, every bite. I grew up in the “clean your plate” era, raised by parents who themselves were children of depression-era children. My grandparents were familiar with the demoralizing nature of such demanding times, and maybe because of this collective consciousness, I abhor wasteful habits. As kids, we didn’t question, we just cleaned our plates. I don’t force my own kids to do this, but I ask that they take only what they think they’ll eat. Leftovers aren’t a problem, a staple of the next day’s school and work lunches. Most days I pack a lunch and even give my kids incentive money to pack instead of buying which serves the twin purposes of bolstering their savings accounts and assuring me they’ll eat well. Plus they learn the value of food.
Perhaps this is why the other day my daughter brought home bags and bags of hoagie rolls. The nationwide franchise sandwich shop where she works tosses their leftover bread and starts fresh each day. Understandable, yet wasteful. Fretful and disillusioned, my 17-year old couldn’t understand her employer’s policy so she rescued the bread before it took a dumpster dive, intent on giving it to someone who could benefit. Her employer agreed to look the other way, but required that there be no mention of the bread’s origins. We’d welcome a few loaves, but four dozen would fill our freezer to bursting. We considered the list of places that would be good candidates while the liability issues ran an endless loop in my brain. Today’s litigious society is fierce even where good intentions abound, but my daughter was adamant so we brainstormed. The homeless shelter? Day care center? Women’s shelter? Church? All suggestions led back to the same quandary: how to get the food, once debuted, from place to place before it went bad, and the trickier question, what if someone got sick? Silly because it was bread, but lawsuits have been won over less (spilled hot coffee comes to mind).
When I was a kid, my parents had a delicatessen at the shore and we often gave the leftover food to the local nunnery. A few times a week I’d carry the spaghetti sauce and meatballs, pasta and tuna salads, and other prepared foods possessed of a limited shelf-life the few blocks to the nuns. They gave profuse thanks, and never once complained about the food’s second run. Today, over 30 million tons of still usable food is landfilled each year, left to rot and turn to methane.
I later discovered organizations in neighboring Philadelphia, Philabundance, and one in Northeast New Jersey, Table to Table. The latter is a self-characterized “food rescue” program. Five refrigerated trucks, and a partnership with local businesses that have good quality, no longer salable food form the core business plan. The company picks up and delivers fresh foods to non-profit organizations with a needy clientele all in the same day, marking the difference between them and a local food bank. Imagine if such an organization existed in every community — the end of leftover food’s mid-life crisis! Lacking a nearby equivalent, we distributed our stash to friends and family. Maybe next time I’ll drive to Jersey.