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A fascinating look at Americans' relationship with leftovers

food, leftovers
Kathleen Franklin/flickr

The Great Depression really marked the golden age of leftovers.

They were meant to be slipped into a pot pie, suspended in a jello ring, buried in a casserole or a meatloaf.

There's a lot to be learned from studying Americans' relationships with leftovers.

"The term leftovers wasn't even coined until the very end of the 19th century," said Helen Zoe Veit, associate professor of history at Michigan State University.

Her recent piece in The Atlantic is titled "An Economic History of Leftovers."

“A hundred years ago, if you had leftover food, that would absolutely be a mark of your prosperity.”

Veit breaks down our complicated relationship with leftovers in this interview with Stateside.

"In the early 20th century Americans were spending on average about 40% of their incomes on food, and poor people were spending even more ... upwards of 50% of their incomes on food."

In contrast with today's spending, Veit adds that now only 13% of our income is spent on food. But, food and food waste has become somewhat of a moral dilemma. 

"Whether it is the fuel that is used to transport our food or to cook it or to cool it; whether it is the social cost of having a system that pays migrant workers very little for example; whether it's concerns about animals and animal welfare, there are all sorts of moral dimensions to eating that make throwing out perfectly edible food seem less morally acceptable than it used to be."

Listen to the full interview about to learn more about the use of leftovers over the years.

Stateside is produced daily by a dedicated group of producers and production assistants. Listen daily, on-air, at 3 and 8 p.m., or subscribe to the daily podcast wherever you like to listen.
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