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Waste Not

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We were walking out of a restaurant downtown one day when a middle aged woman stepped into our path and boldly demanded, “Are you going to eat those leftovers?”

Jon and I shifted uncomfortably, glanced at one another -because, yeah, we were going to eat them. We were still teenagers, I was pregnant, we had no car, and we were only eating out because I was too sick from hunger to walk the remaining mile and a half to the nearest grocery store. We were in a pretty bad spot ourselves at that point. But we’d also had our eyes opened to the complex reality of poverty, how easy it is to fall into destitution and how hard it is to claw your way back out.

So we handed our takeout boxes over and a tradition was born in our family.

Waste not.

A few years later I found out through my reading that this is a pretty common practice in other countries, sharing leftovers to prevent good food from going to waste. It’s a good habit, one that is surprisingly easy to embrace.

Here’s how it works at our house:

We do not leave food to rot in the refrigerator; if things are sitting around, likely to go to waste, we make a post on freecycle or Craigslist, or spend the afternoon hunting for Jimmy and Elizabeth. They always appreciate our cooking.

When we leave a restaurant with a take-out box, we do what we can to pass that box off to someone before we leave the parking lot. If that fails, my schizophrenic friend, Curtis, is easy enough to locate at his usual haunt at the corner of the highway, and he is always thrilled to get a box full of warm, good-quality food.

Now, I have to admit I do not feed people indiscriminately. The scary-looking guy who hangs out by the university and screams for help all day long? I double check that the doors are locked before I drive by. The war vet who throws things at cars and roars about the injustice of his situation as the traffic zips by? Yeah, I feel bad, but I avoid the intersection where he hangs out altogether.

You can’t just prance up to any person, homeless or not, and assume that they’re going to turn out to be nice people. You have to trust your instincts. However, it’s also important to recognize that there is no correlation between having money and being a trustworthy, decent individual.

Conversely, we’ve got to cut the “noble savage” crap that gets thrown around so much when the topic of homelessness comes up. Homelessness is rarely a lifestyle choice, and most people are not too proud to accept help, even of the half-eaten variety. I’ve only had a person refuse food I offered them once, and that’s because the guy was seriously allergic to the food I was offering him.

It boils down to having a can-do attitude. I can’t end homelessness in my community, but I can end hunger, easily and at no extra cost to anyone.

I can’t solve all of the world’s problems, but that doesn’t mean I’m helpless. Not by a long shot.


Written by GRSeim

May 4, 2012 at 6:42 pm

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