Avoiding Food Waste When You're a Jewish Mother - Live Like a Mensch
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Avoiding Food Waste When You're a Jewish Mother

(Or, Why I Have a Metric Ton of Bagels in My Freezer and Enough Orange Juice in the Fridge to Fill an Olympic Swimming Pool)

Eight days after the birth of BB (short for Baby Brother), we fulfilled the covenant of Brit Milah at our synagogue.

In other words, we had a mohel circumcise the child in front of family and friends, and then we all retired to another room to eat bagels and socialize. (Yeah, it feels weird.)

My theory is that the custom of holding a little reception after a Bris is a way to give the new parents something other than the circumcision to stress about. Not that it helps.

In any case, I have now been involved in the planning of two separate Brit Milah ceremonies (LO's and BB's), and both times I have ordered more food than could possibly be eaten by the entire population of Indiana.

I don't think this is entirely my fault.

First, a Bris is planned, by necessity, by a Jewish mother. We're world-renowned for our inability to handle anyone going hungry, or even going less than stuffed-to-the-gills full.

Second, generally, new Jewish mothers are related to other Jewish mothers, who are wont to advise the new Jewish mother to go ahead and add another dozen bagels, and another dozen cupcakes, and heck, why not another two containers of freshly squeezed orange juice, and have we ordered enough lox?--to the catering order. There were no fewer than four Jewish mothers involved in the planning of this Bris, which meant all of us were simply feeding off of each other's fear of not enough food. (Yes, pun intended).

Third, traditionally, a Bris is not something to which you RSVP. It's considered a mitzvah (good deed) to attend a Bris, and so new parents will often simply announce the date and time of the Bris and everyone who can show up will, making it difficult to get an accurate head count ahead of time. While we did send out an evite and had a general idea of who would be coming, we also simply announced the Bris to the congregation of our synagogue at large.

In short, we had enough food for about sixty people.

We had about thirty guests.

There were some epic leftovers.

Of course, the extra lox and cupcakes were gone in a matter of days, because that kind of goodness does not stick around long. That was not the case for the three dozen leftover bagels and three unopened cartons of orange juice.

So, the day after the Bris, we froze the bagels, made room for the juice, and we are now steadily working our way through it.

The problem, for me, is that my innate desire to feed everyone and my overwhelming sense of guilt at wasting food are at odds with each other. I was certainly pleased to see that everyone had enough to eat at the reception. But seeing the amount of leftover food that J and I would have to eat in order to avoid wasting it all was a little overwhelming (and guilt-inducing).

Add in my antipathy for daily consumption of white flour-based food, and there's a perfect storm of potential guilt.

Luckily, J has no such qualms (on any front) and has proven his usefulness in saving me from myself on several occasions.

For instance, there were quite a few breakfast pastries leftover after our post-wedding breakfast for our guests back in 2008. Since we were heading off to our honeymoon, there was no way we could eat (or freeze) the goods, so J gave the whole kit and caboodle to a friend--and advised him to just throw out what he didn't want. J also refrained from telling me about the imminent trashing of perfectly good food, because he knew I would try to fill our pockets with danishes to take on the airplane with us, and he preferred that we not start our honeymoon with a squabble over raspberry danishes and their relative importance in our packing hierarchy.

J is also thrilled to enjoy a bagel and a glass of oj for breakfast every day, and will happily eat through the freezer stash until it's all gone. (I understand that in a few short years, I will not only have J, but also two teenaged boys who will be willing to take that hit in order to alleviate Mom's guilt, which is a win-win).

But I still find myself approaching any major planning of food-based events with some trepidation. I feel that there must be some simple mathematical formula for determining the exact right amount of food--enough for everyone to eat their fill and enjoy themselves, and for us to bring a little bit of leftovers home. In my head, determining the right amount of catering to order (or food to cook) should be as simple as determining the correct withholding on your taxes to make sure you get a modest return. Why isn't there a Catering 1040 EZ form?

Unfortunately, being a Jewish mother means I always overestimate how much everyone will want to eat, and sometimes there are raspberry danish or poppy-seed bagel casualties.

Oh, the pastry humanity!



Photo of bagel-y goodness courtesy of Ezra Wolfe



frugal_fun said:

I'm too lazy to look this up, but I'm pretty sure there are set formulas for feeding crowds.  The catering/restaurant people are pretty loath to waste food, too. The issue is an open invitation where you don't know how many guests will show up. That's a tough one.

October 4, 2013 11:45 AM

haverwench said:

There are formulas, but they're based on the number of invitations sent out: e.g., expect 75 to 80 percent of those invited to show up. So they won't work for a party without a guest list.

In general, I think the best policy is to serve food that you're happy to eat yourself if it's left over. Which sounds like what J. is doing in this case, so no problem.

October 7, 2013 1:33 PM

Live Like a Mensch said:

J and I have a wonderful group of friends here in Lafayette who took turns bringing us dinner for a month

October 19, 2013 2:11 PM

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