A few years ago, my husband and I were waiting for our dinner to arrive in a Thai restaurant, when a movement at the next table caught my eye. An older couple was finishing up their meal. The man was settling the check, and the woman was fishing two plastic containers out of her purse. She shoveled their leftovers into the containers, wrapped them in a reused plastic bag (also from her purse), and proudly carted her DIY doggy bag out of the restaurant.

I felt embarrassed for them. Who could be so penurious as to bring their own doggy bag to the restaurant? Couldn't they just enjoy the meal? Was it really so wasteful to use a restaurant's takeout boxes for your leftovers?

"Let's not ever become those people," I told my husband.

Of course, the scene wouldn't have bothered me save that I could easily see us becoming that couple. We were both raised in Christian families by parents who taught us the values of thrift and stewardship that we gratefully practice to this day. Another way of putting this: There are jokes about people of both our ethnic backgrounds being cheap.

I married a wonderful man who will put even two spoonfuls of leftover macaroni and cheese in a tiny container in the fridge. That container will then, sometimes, migrate to the back of the fridge and begin sprouting colorful mold flowers. This is not all bad. For one thing, a full refrigerator uses energy more efficiently than an empty one. But it shows how, despite best thrifty intentions, food waste happens.

Americans waste more than 40 percent of the food we produce, according to American Wasteland, a new book by journalist Jonathan Bloom. When one in seven households suffer from food insecurity—meaning you don't know where your next meal is coming from—this ...

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