When It Makes Sense to Toss Good Table Scraps


To be or not to be – compost worthy? That is the question Hamlet might pose if the play were written in 2010 and his so-called “sea of troubles”  meant environmental destruction such as the Gulf spill, coral devastation or floating plastic islands. In a time of waste not, we need to question when it is okay to throw away food to produce fertilizer or other sustainable uses.

Since the old directive to clean our plates no longer applies (not in a nation fighting an epidemic of obesity) we end up with a lot of extra food on our plates and tables. Sometimes the portions we serve kids and guests are too abundant. We are left to decide whether or not to wrap up leftovers, feed them to hungry pets or grab the kitchen bin to make mulch.

Don’t let it go to the dogs!

Most experts would agree table leftovers are rarely good for our dogs, despite the fact it feels good to share. “Smoky loves turkey,” my daughters coo, often tossing our pug a handful of meat or a bone. According to Pet Education, a morsel off your plate here and there probably won’t hurt, but most people don’t stop there with those perpetual, adorable moochers. And even healthy organic cuisine recommended for us might not go down so well with God’s other creatures. What about your other pets? Find more info here.

“Feed me more tofu and lentils!”


“The rich foods we eat can wreak havoc on your dog’s digestive tract,” warns Animal Planet. “A simple, consistent diet keeps their system functioning as it should. Throw in your very different foods and spices and do not be surprised if your dog has bad gas, bad breath, loose stools, etc.” Hey, none of those side effects are any fun when your little guy sleeps on your bed. That pertains to big guys, too!

Was the food untouched?


Sometimes the scraps we save for ourselves can be bad for the system, too, depending on who dined on them, how long they sat out, and if the cat licked them with her scratchy tongue while standing on the table with her cat litter-covered contaminated feet. My cat learned to mooch from my pug and she is relentless.

I have a few rules about the scraps. For one thing, I never save anything a baby has sucked on because of the gross factor. Sure, I licked my own babies’ toes, but that is different from their soggy, 1/4 eaten Noah’s bagel.

In terms of wrapping it to go in my fridge or pantry, I consider it if it was just my family that at the meal. If that ‘s the case,  I’m obviously more inclined to fridge that other untouched half of a perfectly good turkey sandwich, bowl of pasta or veggie fried rice. I know when my children are healthy, and when they are teeming with germs, they don’t usually eat at the family table. I try to clear the table dishes before animals can get to the food (yes, even when the finale of The Office is starting) and use my best judgment to decide if the saved food will really get eaten. If it won’t, it makes more sense to recycle it as compost, and very rarely does it simply go down the drain.

Guest who’s not eating their dinner?


When guests dine at our table, it is a different story. Call it squeamishness, but I’m more hesitant to save plated food because of fear of germs. Blood is thicker than water and the leftovers of those with different blood can be repugnant. Still, it’s painful to toss a hardly touched plate, and on occasion, I save food off kids’ plates because they simply didn’t eat much and their hands were clean when they sat down. A second helping of macaroni ignored; a bowl of fruit shunned; an ample helping of broccoli that never entered the mouth of steel. I see no problem with keeping those items for dinner or breakfast, or doing what chefs do, and recycling them for a soup or other new dish.

Hunger versus health.

I guess it comes down to what you can stomach and afford. I’ve heard that hungry waiters and other staff working in snazzy Berkeley restaurants often scarf up the five-star fillets and fudge cake barely eaten by a customer. They’re not letting those dishes artfully composed by a celebrity chef go down the drain.

Then again, every day, businesses trash completely untouched food because of health codes. I’ve watched a Noah’s Bagels in my San Francisco hood at closing time unload boxes of bagels into a dumpster on the street.

The final extreme is my ungreen mother, who insists upon throwing out anything left on the table, and even cleaning untouched plates and utensils because they were exposed to the air and potential germs. We all make up our own rules. Ideally, the ones we enforce will result in healthy bodies and a healthy planet.

Images: Jbloom, Pet Education, 1000 Heads

Luanne Bradley

Luanne Sanders Bradley is the West coast Editor at EcoSalon and currently resides in San Francisco, California.