July Food Stamp Challenge — Day Nine, Embrace Your Inner Food Mooch

by Katy on July 9, 2011 · 33 comments

I would not describe myself as particularly religious, but I was pleased to accept this "Saint Cupcake" into my life.

Today is day nine of the July Food Stamp Challenge and today I want to shine a light on how great it is to be the person that people feel comfortable leaving food with.

I tend to find myself on the receiving end of leftover foodstuff from friends, family and neighbors. And it’s not because they think we’re in the midst of a financial crisis, but because they know we hate food waste and find no offense in the offer. It’s hard to pinpoint how this came to pass, as there was never a specific moment when I said, “I am pleased to accept your food.” But it’s a good place to be.

My sister Jessica just moved from Seattle back to New York City, and before getting on the airplane, she drove down for one last hassle-free trip to Portland. And because she knows I am not one to turn my nose up at half empty bottles of barbecue sauce, she loaded up a couple bags of food from her fridge and pantry. It was a hodge-podge of odd food items ranging from tea bags, rice and blueberries, (yay!) to bottles of Manishewitz wine. (blegh!)

I took it all.

My sister easily could have dumped this stuff with a neighbor, but felt like they would find the offer strange.

My odd assortment of Seattle munchies.

Then, my neighbor Summer knocks on the door bearing not one, but four tiny leftover-from-her-daughter’s-birthday-party Saint Cupcakes in exchange for scallions. (I did possess a few wilted scallions in the fridge to exchange, but would have bought a fresh supply were this not the case.)

And of course, my mother sent me home from her 4th of July barbecue with watermelon, potato salad, corn on the cob and leftover bean salad.

I am not suggesting that you walk up to your neighbors and announce, “I am the type of person who is happy to accept your leftovers,” (Robot voice optional) but you can certainly do you part get this culture of sharing started.

Have a watermelon that’s beyond your family’s appetite? Cut it in fourths and share the bounty. Bumper crop of zucchini? Distribute them to one and all. And last of all, when a baking round has left you with more cake than you should be left alone with, slice off a few slabs and bring them to your neighbors.

And finally, be gracious about all offers. Perhaps even take a classy photo of yourself enjoying the proffered food item:

Manishewitz wine? Om nom nom!

Would you feel comfortable accepting other people’s leftover food? If no, why not? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below. And of course, you should take a look at Jonathan Bloom’s Wasted Food website to explore the in-depth issues related to food and waste.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use up wear it out, make it do or do without”


{ 33 comments… read them below or add one }

Jessica July 9, 2011 at 11:01 am

OK, no joke, my husband claims he fell in love with me because of my total lack of shame of mooching food. You can read about here: http://keepbabbling.blogspot.com/2011/05/stop-trying-so-hard-youre-already.html

At work we have what we call the “magic counter.” Whenever somebody has something left over from a meeting or at home (e.g., Halloween candy), they’ll leave it on the counter for everyone to share. It’s a great system, and it’s like magic because food will pop up on the counter once or twice a week.

Whenever we visit my parents, my mom always tries to send us home with stuff, although it’s usually cake (if we were there for a celebration), which generally sits in our fridge until it goes bad, since neither of us is a big sweets eater. Ah, well.


Karen July 9, 2011 at 11:09 am

Excellent Manishewitz photo!

We have a similar thing at work and food is gone within minutes, no joke! I always bring the leftovers from my kids’ cakes to work. But, I actually keep them in my office until I make sure all my friends get some first!


Mama Minou July 9, 2011 at 11:29 am

I love this post, and I’m not ashamed to be a food mooch either! I had to smile at Jessica’s comment above. I met my husband in an evening pottery class in college. It was easy to start chatting because we were the two always standing around the cookie tray during breaks.

Now, I am the grateful recipient of bakery treats from my dear neighbor Auntie Ruth. She is retired and loves hanging out in local places for coffee, bread and pastries with friends. She also can’t resist a good half-off deal, and has developed relationships with workers, who tend to cut her special deals. Since she lives alone and is health-conscious (and also hates food waste), it’s very common to come home and find a half-loaf of great bread or a piece of cake or couple of scones (usually designated for the kids) waiting on the side porch. Yay!

We do lots of food trades in my neighborhood too–we traded eggs for greens all last winter, and I’ve moved on to eggs for coffee (my friend Kara has two siblings that own organic coffee shops).


Kristen@TheFrugalGirl July 9, 2011 at 12:12 pm

Oh yeah, we do this! Whenever people we know go on restrictive diets, they always dump their food on us, which is fabulous.


Mindy July 9, 2011 at 12:58 pm

I’d totally take free food! When our neighbor died, her husband cleaned out the pantry and gave us a ton of stuff. Nothin’ wrong with hand me downs.


Mary Kate July 9, 2011 at 1:10 pm

When we overlap with relatives at the beach we take their leftovers and use most of them. They tend to over buy and they fly home so happily accept their stuff that would otherwise end up in the trash. I send stuff we don’t want to work with my husband, where they have a counter they use for this sort of thing. We both give and get.


Jenny July 9, 2011 at 2:17 pm

We have one single friend who cleans out her pantry EVERY QUARTER (yes, she needs to get a life) and brings us whatever she thinks is getting too old. We love it. And we have a borrowing flour/sugar/egg/etc. relationship with the next door neighbors, which is great since we live quite a ways from the store.


Nina Nelson July 9, 2011 at 2:26 pm

We get food from all over the place – people are always asking us. Maybe it’s because we have four small children and they know we can always use more food. I love that people do that for us. And if it’s something I don’t eat, I just redistribute. We do this with lots of other stuff, too.


emmer July 9, 2011 at 2:58 pm

now, i hadn’t thot of doing this with food, in this way. i do have a rep for using all kinds of fabric and yarn in my sewing business and volunteer work. i find bags of fabric on my doorstep early in the morning, the way other people find bags of zucchini in august.

we do sometimes have a friday nite feast of leftovers, where each guest brings something going to waste from the frig or pantry. that sort of sharing makes for some ecclectic, but yummy, meals.


Joe Zollars July 9, 2011 at 3:14 pm

on the meneshevitz, while i agree it is undrinkable generally (and this coming from one who actually does only drink Kosher wine–the newer varieties like Baron Herzog, Joyvin, and assorted other Israeli vintners are much better) i have used the elderberry flavor to make a reduction to put over ice cream, and I’ve used it in cooking. its not bad–as long as it goes in a glass.

On the picture of you enjoying this fermented cough syrup, I am so glad you didn’t put it in a glass. would have been an insult to the glass. 😉

BTW, I’m a total food mooch too. Today I was over at a family members house and they had a tiny eggplant on the vine that was not going to be getting any bigger (we’re having a drought here) and said family member picked it to throw away as its “too tiny to deal with” said eggplant is now in my fridge.


Laura July 9, 2011 at 3:16 pm

Back in the day when my husband was in the navy, we used to get a ton of leftover food that could not be shipped every time someone got transferred because people knew we would accept the stuff. We usually got wine and other liqueuers, loads of condiments, cereal, flour, etc. I swear though the Tabasco sauce was the same bottle that used to get passed around from family to family when they PCSed, sort of like a fruitcake.


Kris July 10, 2011 at 11:49 am

I was just going to say the same thing. My husband retired from the Air Force a few years ago. You were always on the receiving at some point. Best freebies come when someone PCSed overseas. Lots of stuff you might be able to take from your pantry in your vehicle if you are staying state-side had no place to go if you were going overseas…lol

When we got orders overseas I remember my friends gleefully rubbing their sticky little fingers together wondering what goodies would be coming their way..lol Overseas orders are the big cast off jackpot because you have such a tight weight limit, even if you could take canned goods, etc overseas, you normally don’t put food above furniture when it comes to the ever precious household goods weight limit.


AnnW July 9, 2011 at 4:06 pm

Why not share? It is the nice thing to do. If you build up goodwill with your friends and neighbors, then you can be surprised when they bring you things. Is Manichevitz good for anything? Making wine jello? Marinating something? I just saw your bakelite egg beater on Ruby Lane – $45!! Good buy. Ann


Lynda July 9, 2011 at 6:08 pm

When my best girlfriend left for the Peace Corp I took all of her food and spices, gardening equipment and her crockpot…when she came back to the US a month later I didn’t give anything back! ; )

I’m usually the one that gives the left-overs. I have adult children that come over every day and they usually go home with a bit of something from the fridge, garden, chicken coop and/or the pantry…I love it!


Carla July 9, 2011 at 6:20 pm

Mooching? Odd, because I never thought of it in that light. I make soup and share with the older friend who lives alone. She can hardly see us without pressing some cookies or fruit upon us or her chicken ‘n dumplings which my husband dearly loves. After potlucks at church people will press food on you if there are leftovers and they know you like it. We do the same with them. Before my husband retired we practically always sent leftover dessert to work with him where it was scarfed up and didn’t end up on our waistlines. But mooching? Is that mooching?


Katy July 9, 2011 at 7:17 pm


You have to understand that to me “mooching” is a positive word.



Carla July 10, 2011 at 3:16 am

Ah. To me it denotes begging off another with no real intention of paying back. No wonder I am not with you.


Jennifer B. July 9, 2011 at 6:31 pm

OK, I keep coming back to the photo of you glugging the “wine.” I think what really makes it is hearing “om nom nom!” in my head. Thanks for the belly laugh!


Stephanie July 9, 2011 at 6:38 pm

I was going to say the same thing as Laura. One of the fun things about being Army is that people give you their un-packable food items before they move, and you do the same when it’s your turn. It’s also a fun way to try items you might normally not purchase!


Laura July 9, 2011 at 8:33 pm

Food allergies restrict me from accepting food from non family, but I love having other people to give to!


dustimc July 9, 2011 at 8:38 pm

I guess I need to get over a few hang ups. I’ve always been weird about eating behind anyone. Then I worked food service before I became a nurse. I just assume anyone I don’t know has cholera, diptheria and malaria and their food is contaminated. Unopened stuff- probably ok but leftover tuna hotdish? Uh-uh.
But I hate food waste, too so I throw anything that doesn’t get eaten in 5-7 days in the freezer. Once or twice a month, we make really great soup


Amanda July 9, 2011 at 9:28 pm

Here’s one of my favorite tips: when you buy scallions (or green onions) plant them in a small pot in your kitchen window, they’ll keep growing (and they’re FREE!!!!) and you won’t have to worry about them wilting away in your fridge.
I’m always pawning food off on people, we have chickens, so I give my extra eggs away to all our friends and family and I bake goodies for my hubby to take to work.


Sara Wolk July 10, 2011 at 10:08 pm

Great tip, I’ll try that!


Kris July 10, 2011 at 4:57 am

I happily accept all offers of food that I know my family will eat. I have said no, however, when I know we won’t eat it or when we have just had tons of sweets at home and they are offering more sweets. Noone needs cupcakes for everymeal for a week straight!


Jinger July 10, 2011 at 5:00 am

Those Famous Chocolate Wafers bring me back to my 50’s childhood when my mother would make her delicious chocolate icebox cake with them. Fresh whipped cream slathered between layers of cookies, put into the icebox so it all mushed together and then coated with with thick layer of whipped cream. We were in heaven!


Katy July 10, 2011 at 8:42 am

My grandmother made that icebox cake too, and is exactly why my sister had bought them.

I used to think this dessert was an ultra-sophisticated dish, until I realized it tastes exactly like Oreo cookies. Still love it though and only make it for extremely special occasions, as it’s quite expensive. I made tiny ones for both my sons’ first birthdays.



Sunny July 10, 2011 at 11:29 am

We totally do this. Once in college some friends gave us their turkey after Thanksgiving (that they hardly ate) because they knew I would pick the meat off the bones and make broth. We had turkey soup and other soups for months!


Elizabeth July 10, 2011 at 1:11 pm

I wouldn’t mind leftovers if it came from someone I knew well enough – ie, my mom or my mother-in-law (someone I knew kept dairy in the fridge all the time, for example). And I take free food wherever it comes from – working on campus, popcorn given away free in the student union, etc 🙂


Jessica Wolk-Stanley July 10, 2011 at 4:22 pm

I’m glad I could share my leftover food with you. I hate to see it go to waste and I knew you’d get a kick out of some of the weirder items (my DH tends to go bonkers shopping at Grocery Outlet and comes home with strange items I would never buy).

Now we live in a small apartment in NYC with the typical small apartment tiny kitchen, so I am trying to be very mindful about using up food before we shop. An aside, this building has a “free book” shelf in the recycling area here. People also put unwanted household items there too and they disappear quickly. I love it and have already disposed of a few odds and ends. But the big NYC bummer…bedbugs! No more garbage picking for me, especially soft furnishings.


rhonda July 11, 2011 at 5:45 am

We have occasionally been the beneficiaries of leftovers from lots of different avenues and I love it! I have college-age children and sometimes they will bring their remaining condiments and such home at the end of a semester or college year and load up our fridge. They generally aren’t interested in taking it back with them the next semester, would rather start fresh at whatever new apartment or dorm-room where they land. I don’t mind a bit, we’ll use them at home. My family knows I will cook up the turkey carcass and would rather send it home with me than be bothered themselves. Score for me!

But I have another example of this that always makes me chuckle. My mother-in-law had 8 children, was widowed, then remarried to my husbands widowed father – thus adding 4 more children to her 8. The family wasn’t wealthy, so needless to say she had to be an incredible household manager to make ends meet and keep all those children fed. I have always admired how she manages, even now when she will turn 90 this year! She now lives in a retirement community in Florida where most of her friends and neighbors go back up North every summer. Most know that she happily will accept the contents of their fridge when they go. So mom-in-law ends up with a stuffed fridge and happily uses it all. But we all joke about making sure to check expiration dates when you take anything from her fridge when we are visiting, as when you have a dozen open mustards who knows which one came from 1982? I may joke about it (and we do it with her, not behind her back) but I am still a great admirer and hope I can do even half as well with my much, much smaller family!


Linda July 13, 2011 at 5:00 am

We my friend moved to Philly from Mass, she told me to take some of the items from her fridge and freezer. She said they were just going to be thrown out. I got some great ground elk (really good), linguica patties, relish, ketchup, etc.

She is frugal like me, so she knew I would be happy to take it off her hands.


Lisa July 14, 2011 at 8:21 am

My parents are adventurous, and somewhat compulsive grocery shoppers, but less adventurous eaters. They are constantly giving me things that “looked interesting so we bought it, but it isn’t really our thing.” The other day they gave me a huge costco box containing four boxes of granola bars inside, with only two missing, they impulse bought it and decided they liked another brand better. 38 free granola bars, thanks Mom and Dad!


Lilypad July 20, 2011 at 8:33 pm

I love Manischewitz, it’s the only thing that gets me through the Passover seder with my husband’s family. 😉


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