Leftover

Leftover is perhaps a term we encounter everyday. They have always been there. However, what it refers to has also varied through temporal contexts, cultural habits and semiotic values born out of these habits. Yet we recognize their presence: quiet (sometimes invisible) archives that mark our human choreographies of production and consumption that remain unfinished or open-ended. Not just of food but of life itself. ‘Leftover’ is a descriptive notion to our subjective choices that amount to collective excesses. Our lives are decorated by persisting things, relations, businesses and memories. We are in fact living remains of the past. In food, leftover has become a mark of our moral and ethical judgment towards the material. It reveals our agency of the meanings we ascribe to a material in relation to our values of time and space.

The English etymology of the word ‘leftover’ referring to excess food was first used in the late 19th century. The context of its use coincided with progressive forms of food storage industrialisation (i.e. invention of the fridge, then tupperware, then seram wrap, then microwave, then doggy bag). It also manufactured with it a general public excuse to routinise choreographies of consumption and its other: waste. Today, ‘leftover’ is assigned as a (generally pejorative) value to food that we have failed or forgotten to eat. Its notion has become a semiotic by-product of modern time appropriated by current and still dominant agencies of neo-liberal capitalism. While the culture of leftover and its cooking are considered mundane, often invisible and ignored; they can also be peripheral documents of human disempowerment: of our persisting malaise with the processes of production that has gotten out-of-hand. In rural areas where people are still in touch with the processes of self-sustenance, leftover does not really exist, or it is simply all there is. Like in the little village where my mother was born, leftover is referred to as tada, something that one leaves behind for the next cycle of usage, and hence intrinsically forms part of the circular economy of living.

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