According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, roughly 70 billion pounds of food is lost in the United States each year — and nearly one-third of that food waste happens because we purchase, cook or serve more than we consume. One of the ways to curb this food wastage is utilising the leftovers efficiently.
Does Islam talk about this? What guidelines Qur’an and Hadeeth provide us regarding the leftovers. Let’s find out.
How many times it happens that we find in our fridges many items we didn’t even realise were there (and, were sitting from long). And, at last to declutter we simply throw all that away.
Do we fully use the food we purchase? Probably, not.
If you are somebody like me who always believed that one should not waste food for environmental, social and financial reasons, I will give you even one more reason today. And, if you think (like I think) that you do not waste food; I will say, ‘perhaps, you still waste a lot of it.’
In the days of lockdown amid covid19 pandemic when I opened the Fridge to dice some veggies in my noodles, I hesitated. ‘What if things do not change soon’, I thought and shut the door back. To butcher a whole carrot, capsicum, tomatoes, onions, and whatnot…Just to dice a few pieces from each for a single plate was not a wise idea. Then at once, I thought about an overlooked bowl stashed in the fridge with leftover from yesterday. And, emptied that into the pan of simmering noodles. Well, I liked the noodles so much that it prompted me to share the story (Hey, if you haven’t read yet, read here). While writing that piece when I read thoroughly about what Islam says regarding wasting food, I was so amazed to know what it actually means to not waste food.
I had already read this verse in Qur’an many times.
I was also aware of this hadeeth of beloved Prophet (PBUH), recorded by Imam Ahmad Imam from Al-Miqdam bin Ma`dikarib Al-Kindi.
What I was not fully aware, was the ruling over leftover food in light of the Qur’an and Sunnah.
In Fataawa al-Lajnah al-Daa’imah (22/341) it says: Leftover food must be saved for the next time or it should be given to the needy; if there are no needy people, then it should be given to animals, even after it has dried out, for the one who is able to do that.
(To know in detail, read here)
Definitely, I was in a wrong impression about myself. However, I resolved then to not waste and to fully utilise the leftover food & drinks the way Allaah SWT expects us to do. Without any doubt, the first step towards reducing food waste is to buy and cook only that much is needed. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, nearly one-third of the food waste happens because we purchase, cook or serve more than we consume. However, it is practically not very realistic to get zero leftovers all the time. So, what we need along with a conservative approach in cooking is an effective plan to utilise the leftovers.
Here are some sorted ways I designed based on the Islamic principle for leftovers mentioned above for both me and you to utilise what is left in even more effective ways.
Save for the Next Time
Use as the Ingredient
The first thing before that comes to my mind even before ‘creating a new dish’ when I have leftover in hand is to use it as ‘ingredients’ in the next meal. Though there is not much difference technically, there is a lot in the way we see leftovers. I will explain. Whenever I am cooking Sambhar, I am hardly using a half or just one third (if very large) of the bottle gourd in my Sambhar daal. Knowing that the remaining bottle gourd won’t remain fresh for quite long once cut, I can’t keep it waiting when for the next time I cook Sambhar. Simply grate it, boil it, drain it…Yalla, store it now. Use it as an ingredient for your next ‘raita’ (yogurt dip).
Leftover chicken tikka can give you chicken dices for fried rice.
Leftover salad gives you filling for your breakfast omelette.
If you have leftovers and you don’t know how to use them as ingredients, try this free tool at BigOven. Choose up to 3 ingredients. BigOven will tell you what you can make!
When it comes to makeover your leftover, creativity plays the best.
I remember as a kid, my brother and I used to wait for the milk to get curdled in hot summers of India. The curdled milk, unfit to make tea or to drink otherwise, never went into the drain. My grandmother used to make an awesome dessert from it. Likewise, dried leftover chapatis were turned into choorma, leftover plain rice into meethey chawal (sweetened with jaggery and ghee), and the list is endless. However, my personal favorite till date is a dish called ‘shola’. In an Indian kitchen, you will always find leftovers from spicy mutton or beef gravies sitting stealthily in a corner in the fridge, daal, rice, and mix veg. All you need to do is to combine all of them and add some roasted cracked wheat or bulgur wheat and cook them all on a slow flame in a porridge-like consistency. Trust me! This dish uses the leftovers in such a delicious way that you just can’t have one(ce).
Plan Meal Smartly
You just can’t run a kitchen (at least not efficiently) blindly. A little planning can be a real time and budget-saver. In my home ‘what is on the next meal’ always depends on ‘what we had in the previous meal’ and ‘what we are having right now’.
If I cook Chola- Chawal in dinner, the breakfast would be Chola-Poori.
If we had Chana-Chaat in breakfast, the lunch would be Chana-Taahri.
Again, your palate and your plate might not be similar to mine, and thus the planning. The key is ‘think about what the extras can become before deciding the next meal’.
Store Leftovers Carefully
This tip is for me before anybody else. Many times, it happens that I keep something in the fridge and simply forget that later. Result? I simply lose its track.
Now I try my best to always use glass containers to store. Reusable. Sustainable. Healthy. And, transparent. Not out of sight. Not out of mind.
Don’t Lie, Hide if You Need
When it comes to using leftovers in the kitchen, a lack of creativity and a lack of planning are not the only hurdles. It might be your family members too. I know many homes where eating leftover is considered ‘not-so-classy’. You might not believe but it is a social taboo in many settings. It is not uncommon in desi homes to find a wife or daughter-in-law being bullied ‘phoohad’ or ‘kaamchor’ for serving a leftover meal for the second time.
Take my words; you can’t change their perception. However, you can change the appearance, that is in your hands. Though, it is not permissible to lie even in such matters in Islam; you can definitely hide for a bigger cause.
Alter the look of the leftover meal (Creativity, I told you!), if you serve it next time, so that they see it as new only.
Give to the Needy
Share the Table
Who among us has never shared his dining table with a friend or relative? More or less, we all do it. However, we usually share it either on special occasions or when there is a planned invite. Next time do not wait for any special occasion or a special meal you cook sometimes. Just share whatever you have. There might be a cousin living nearby away from his family or a friend on some business trip, just call and say, “let’s eat together whatever is cooked”. Or, simply send a portion to your neighbors, guard, driver or your laundry-man down the street.
Don’t think that you didn’t cook extra.
Jabir reported Allaah’s Messenger (PBUH) as saying, ‘‘Food for one (person) suffices two, and food for two (persons) suffices four persons and food for four persons suffices eight persons.’’ [Sahih Muslim: 2059 D]
Pack with Respect
Another issue I have seen in ‘desi’ families is that either they give almost close to rotten food to their maids and beggars or on another extreme they prefer dumping instead of giving anything that is not fresh, just out of hesitation. Both the approaches are not right. Neither hoard leftover thinking you might eat it later and then giving when it has almost gone off nor hesitate from giving what can be still eaten. Just pack with respect and hand over with a warm smile.
Your extra is the necessity of somebody else.
When it comes to giving food to needy, do not wait for somebody to ring your doorbell. Reach out.
You just had a fancy dinner at the restaurant, make them pack all that is leftover nicely. Drive some extra miles, look for laborers working on streets, boys cleaning cars. Ask them with respect if they had eaten and won’t mind having if you offer. Again, hand over with a warm smile.
Feed the Animals
If You have a Pet
‘Pets aren’t garbage disposals, but they can help combat food waste’. How true!
We all know that this idea is not something new. It has been always in practice. We all have seen our elders feeding vegetable scraps or dried chapatis to dogs, cows, goats, and birds. However, make sure you are giving the right type of leftover in the right amount to your pet. Read more about how animals can help us combat the food-waste.
Stray Animals Deserve Too
They say, “feeding hungry animals is nothing short of feeding your soul.” True!
Read here the story of Emirati chef who is feeding stray animals from brunch leftovers.
Well, what can you do at your place? For this sometimes you have to go out on the streets and sometimes just on your rooftops. I grew up seeing my elders keeping the leftover rice and grain in a small bowl for birds on rooftops. Small leftovers from biscuit jars or packets can be put in a corner outside the kitchen window or near the wall outside the home for ants. Large amounts of leftovers go well for cats, dogs, and cows. Check this guide to feed stray animals, responsibly.
Go Extra Mile
When I say ‘go extra mile’, I am not just saying to walk a few extra miles to put the leftovers in an open space where animals usually roam around; I am also saying to think beyond the boundary to utilise leftovers.
I remember, back in India in my childhood, almost every household, including mine, in my locality used to dry and store the leftover-breads (Not just to make choormas all the time). Every week or the tenth day, a vendor used to come calling ‘boosi tukdey (dry bread), boosi tukdey’ in the street; collecting all the dry bread in a big sack from home to home, giving us in return a couple of onions. It was not only onions that we were getting back. A great deal of satisfaction that we are not throwing the provision in the garbage and definitely the hope of getting the reward from Allaah SWT were the perks.
Your way of walking extra-mile might be different than mine. Think. Think. Think.
- Donate to food banks or animal shelters nearby
- Team up with your locality members to find a collective solution
- Do backyard composting (Read Here)
Last, But Not Least, Give Respect
Shaykh Ibn Baaz (may Allah have mercy on him) said:
It is not permissible to put leftovers in the trash or impure places or in the road, because that is mistreatment of them, and because putting them in the road is mistreating them and causes annoyance to those who use the road.
Shaykh Saalih al-Fawzaan (may Allah preserve him) said: It is not permissible to throw any food into dirty places or impure places such as washrooms, because that is a waste, mistreatment of the blessing and a lack of gratitude to Allah.
The Prophet (blessings and peace of Allah be upon him) found a date in the road and said “Were it not that I am afraid that it came from the zakaah, I would have eaten it.” Narrated by al-Bukhaari in his Saheeh.
And he (blessings and peace of Allah be upon him) ordered the one who eats to lick his fingers before washing them or wiping them on a handkerchief, and he instructed that if a piece of food is dropped, it should be picked up and any dirt should be removed from it, and it should be eaten.
What a beautiful Deen, by God!
May Allaah give us the ability to act upon it. Aameen!