While making breakfast I scorched the toast. Automatically I scraped off the Cajun part before smearing on some butter and homemade jam. Then I started to wonder: How many people would have just thrown it in the trash and started over?
I grew up scraping toast. My family would have considered it wasteful to toss charred chow, given how simple it is to fix.
Recently a thread started up on Not MSN Money, a community formed by so-called “refugees” from MSN Money’s now-defunct message boards. The thread, “What do you do with the heels from bread?,” asked readers whether they use them or toss them.
Guess what the answers were.
Bread crumbs, and beyond
People dry the heels (in the microwave, on the counter, in the toaster oven) and grind them up for bread crumbs. One reader mixes those crumbs with bird seed and peanut butter and smears it on pinecones for the birds.
End pieces are saved to become stuffing, toppers for onion soup, croutons made in a skillet or oven. They’re run through coffee grinders to clean them (can’t vouch for that one since I don’t drink coffee).
Cocooned around hot dogs, they eliminate the need for rolls. Mixed with egg and milk they become bread pudding. They’re smeared with peanut butter to make treats for dogs (or humans).
One woman puts bread heels under a meatloaf before baking, to absorb most of the grease. Several people suggested putting the heel in a container of homemade cookies or a bag of brown sugar to keep these items soft.
They make “the best toast,” insisted one reader; my sister says the same thing. And two heels used “inside-out” give you an extra sandwich from each loaf. This is a good thing, given the way food prices keep rising.
Our daily bread
People who have no qualms about throwing away food might think these ideas are a little extreme. The end pieces aren’t as attractive as the rest of the loaf. And surely anything scorched is ruined, right?
“Tightwad Gazette” author Amy Dacyczyn wrote of hearing groans of dismay from a television audience when she shared a frugal trick: If cookies are a little burned on the bottom, use a grater to scrape off the yucky part.
Some would consider that appalling. I thought it was clever.
Dacyczyn also wrote about a neighbor child who took a couple of bites of an apple and threw the rest into a pile of leaves in the yard. When Dacyczyn suggested another use for the uneaten fruit (apple crisp), the kid’s mother reacted with horror: What, pick up and use a “germy” apple?
The woman did have running water. How hard would it have been to pick it up and wash it off? To slice and eat the rest herself, or freeze it for a future smoothie or batch of applesauce? And maybe to tell the child, “That was a wasteful thing to do – next time you want to eat an apple you have to split it with someone.”
The waste of food in this country is staggering. It reflects poor stewardship of resources, an increasing separation from the production of the food we eat, and an inability to comprehend just how blessed we are.
If you are hungry in the United States, you will be fed. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, food banks, free school lunches (and maybe breakfasts), soup kitchens, WIC, church pantries and who knows how many other agencies can help.
Perhaps you won’t be fed as richly or conveniently as you’d like, but you will almost certainly not starve to death. This is not a country where pedestrians routinely step over the prostrate bodies (or corpses) of the chronically malnourished.
The gift we’ve been given
That’s not to say that people don’t go hungry here. They do. Which makes throwing away even a bread heel kind of startling. Do you have any idea how fortunate you are even to consider rejecting food that doesn’t meet your standards?
They say that if you watch your pennies, the dollars will take care of themselves. I think this applies to our food budgets, too. If you use food resources wisely your grocery bill will go down, one sandwich at a time.
But it’s more than just frugality. It’s acknowledging the astonishing gift that we’ve been given: the ability to obtain food with relative ease.
Those of you who throw out leftovers because they’re “old,” i.e., they’re from a meal prepared two days ago? News flash: They got old because you chose not to eat them, because for you there will always be something else in the cupboard or in the pile of takeout menus on top of the fridge.
Or so you think. How many unemployed or underemployed folks out there are now eating the end pieces? Ask them if what they’d do if they accidentally burned the toast.