I never understood my mum’s obsession with leftover food. To this day she never throws anything away. We’re talking tiny remnants of meals here, a blob of tuna, a spoonful of potato salad. Nobody ever fancies it the next day. Instead the contents of those small pots and plastic boxes at the back of the fridge would gradually turn putrid before finally ending up in the bin, a few weeks later.
I used to think it was some kind of war-baby thing. You know, she lived through rationing so of course it’s only natural she’d save the lumpy dregs of the gravy, that lonely slice of a boiled egg, those wrinkly three peas. Where was the next meal was coming from, right? It’s only now, when I find myself rescuing my own despondent fragments of meals, carefully placing a spoonful of beans into a tiny tupperware container or plonking one small cooked potato into a pot, that I realise it’s motherhood that does it.
For one thing, once you’ve watched your kids throw most of your hard cooking work onto the floor, “wasting good food” takes on a new meaning. This is personal. Those peas aren’t just any old peas, they’re your blood-sweat-and-tears peas. And they’ll damn well eat them up even if it means adding them cold to their lunch plate the next day. And the next.
Yes. Of course we’re poor too. Dirt poor. We don’t have rationing, but our belts have got damn uncomfortable of late. Just look at the cost of childcare – which has now jumped to a third more since the recession according to a report published by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. You eke out each meal because you can’t do a ‘weekly’ shop. Why? Because the weekly shop seems to have doubled in price (like, when did that happen?). So you stretch it out to a fortnightly event with some limp veg bought at Costcutter in between.
And yes. We are digging this whole budget living vibe right? We’re all eco-warriors now. We recycle our food because ‘waste not want not’ is the buzzy thing to do. Yesterday’s spag bog is tomorrow’s chilli con carne. At the very least that old bit of courgette will be going on the compost-heap, right? Oops, I meant the Bokashi bin, of course. We don’t recycle anymore, for crying out loud, we UPcycle. Yeah.
But truly, it’s really because, with a toddler to look after, there is NO TIME. You can’t be cooking from scratch every meal – are you insane? No. You cook one meal. On Monday. And you take their next meal out of its leftovers and arrange it on the plate into a face shape for lunch on Tuesday. Oooooh. Look at the funny man! And you hope by tea-time on Wednesday the kid doesn’t realise it’s the third time he’s been eating from that same batch. Bon appetit!