How to Be Stewardly with Restaurant Leftovers

Illustration for The Banner by Laurie Sienkowski

Restaurant meals are too large. When you take leftovers home, they’re almost always given in Styrofoam containers that can’t be recycled. What’s the most stewardly option?

Life is messy, and the options aren’t always perfect. This might be one of those situations. Many of us were raised to think that leaving food on our plates was a violation of a commandment. Couple that with the average North American restaurant’s insistence on not being outdone in portion size and you have a prescription for overeating and waste.

It makes a difference, of course, how many options you have. In a larger community, you’ll have more options, which might include splitting dinner plates between you and your dinner companion (assuming you have similar tastes). You might also find that some restaurants offer half portions, sometimes marketed as lunch portions.

Restaurants also have options as to the containers for leftovers or take-out orders. Many no longer use Styrofoam containers, though you should be wary of cardboard or paper products too. While these seem to be recyclable, if they have too much oil or foodstuff on them, they are no longer recyclable and end up in the landfill. It’s best if you can find a restaurant that offers compostable food containers. These are slightly more expensive but can be composted along with other food waste.

Two concluding thoughts: First, there’s no rule saying you can’t bring your own take-home container along. A couple of sealable containers needn’t take up much room and could be kept with your reusable shopping bags in your car. Second, while there was a virtue in encouraging children to eat everything on their plates, it isn’t wise to make a fetish of it. A similar virtue is to keep uneaten food items out of landfills by composting them and returning them to the soil. The soil needs to be fed too.

About the Author

Rolf Bouma is an ordained pastor in the Christian Reformed Church who teaches religion, ethics, and ecology in the Program in the Environment at the University of Michigan.

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