The Social Life of Leftovers

Thanks to busy schedules, ever-growing food portions, and poor meal planning, many of us find ourselves with a lot of leftovers. Over 36 million tons of food brought home become waste annually, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. But at least some of those reheatables may be finding a second life.

While many of us see leftovers as food that has lost value, that lacks novelty and excitement, and that is less tasty, the act of sharing leftovers can create closer family ties, according to marketing lecturer Benedetta Cappellini in a 2009 article published in the Journal of Consumer Culture. Leftovers are also, at times, a type of sacrifice. Mothers take it upon themselves to finish yesterday’s meal, while preparing something fresh and nutritious for the rest of the family, expressing care for family members, according to Cappellini and Elizabeth Parsons, writing in The Sociological Review in 2013.

So the next time you’re staring down a container of leftovers, remember that they say more about us than just what we ate last night.