How and Why We Let our Leftovers “Mature”

Have you ever opened up your fridge, looking for something to eat, and noticed a forgotten container of mysterious leftovers? Curious as to what it might be, you take it out, hold it up to the light and decide whether or not it might still be edible. The jury’s out, it’s probably still tasty but the fact that you forgot about it and the contents are difficult to identify probably doesn’t make it very appetizing. Instead of either peeling back the Tupperware lid or else throwing it away, you simply place it back on the shelf in the fridge. It’s probably still fine to eat, so you don’t want to throw it away. For now though, it will remain on the shelf and you’ll find something else to eat.

A week later, you stumble upon the container again. Okay, NOW it’s definitely not safe to eat so you can throw it away more or less guilt-free.

If this sounds familiar, you’re not alone. Many of us practice the habit known in the academic literature as the “Maturation Effect”. This is described as the practice of placing leftovers in the fridge in order to delay any uncomfortable feelings associated with wasting it immediately. Instead, the leftovers are left to “mature”, only to be thrown out a few days later when they are no longer good. By letting the food go bad, we successfully manipulate the food in a way that it suddenly becomes “OK” to throw out (Hebrok & Boks, 2017).

It is natural to avoid feelings of guilt and discomfort. We don’t waste food on purpose and organizing a household budget, balancing different taste preferences and accommodating meals to busy schedules can be challenging. In this case, it is interesting to observe the utilization of time as a way of ridding ourselves of responsibility.

What is the solution? Don’t be afraid of your leftovers. Use best practices when it comes to determining food safety but try and get creative with repurposing your leftovers into different dishes. Not only can it save time but it will also save room in the refrigerator and ultimately, reduce food waste.

References

Hebrok, M., & Boks, C. (2017). Household food waste: Drivers and potential intervention points for design – An extensive review. Journal of Cleaner Production, 151, 380–392. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jclepro.2017.03.069

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