The Secret Life of Leftovers

Nat Watkins in The New Atlantis:

I have worked in restaurants, lived on sustenance homesteads, volunteered for aquaponics and permaculture farms, and harvested at food forests from Hawaii to Texas. I invariably come home with a crate of spare cuttings and leftovers that no one else wants. My pockets are often full of uneaten complimentary bread.

This is possible because I live in a country where 30 to 40 percent of food produced is never eaten, where the average family throws out $1,500 worth of food every year, and where a typical restaurant discards about a half-pound of food per meal.

This is an astonishing historical anomaly. In almost any other time and place in human history, someone would look at the very same waste and say, “Looks delicious!” Some of the world’s most common dishes — like chilis, soups, and casseroles — were once common ways of using leftovers. A culture of scarcity created delicious food, often literally out of cultures growing on food: yeasts, molds, and bacteria. We would have no cheese, bread, and beer without them. By contrast, our culture of abundance is also a culture of waste, partly because we have forgotten the ways we used to cook.

More here.