Last year I went to my brother’s place for Thanksgiving. He took care of the turkey and his guests supplied all the other dishes. There was way too much food, but my brother never asked if anyone wanted to take any of it home. I was annoyed, as I love turkey sandwiches. At Thanksgiving dinner, who should get the leftovers? And if the hosts don’t offer the leftovers, is it OK to ask for them?—Turkey Grabber
Dear Turkey Grabber,
Leftovers are part of the joy of Thanksgiving, and it is very wrong for one person to keep them all, even if he killed the turkey himself and got up at dawn to cook it. Everyone who wants to should take some food home. Especially if you split the cost or labor. If there isn’t enough for everybody, dish it out according to the Two Laws of Leftovers:
Feed the charity cases. Thanksgiving is a time for generosity, so give the leftovers to those who need them most, whether that’s your aging aunt who lives on canned soup or your lonely bachelor friend who doesn’t cook. If there are homeless people in your neighborhood, pack up the food nicely and offer it to them. First ask them if they want it, though, as it is patronizing to just dump it by their blanket.
Reward the deserving. If there are no obvious charity cases, then reward people according to how they contributed. If you peeled five pounds of potatoes, you deserve that extra pie. If you kept the kids amused or babysat an annoying relative, you get a share, too. But if you went into a turkey coma while other people did the dishes, you go home empty-handed.
So can you ask for leftovers if the host doesn’t offer them? No. At a cocktail party, on seeing leftover liquor, would you ask the host, “Can I take home the vodka that’s left in the bottle?” Asking for food that the host or another guest has made is like asking them to give you a gift. And asking for the remains of a dish that you brought is like asking for a gift back.
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Every year, we tell Aunt Betty not to worry about bringing anything to Thanksgiving. And every year she brings her “famous” Spam stuffing (famous for being revolting). If your guests offer to bring something gross, is it OK to ask them not to?—Sick of Spam
Dear Sick of Spam,
Thanksgiving is not the time to be a fussy gourmet. Yes, the food matters, but friends and family are more important. Aunt Betty probably derives a deep satisfaction from feeling she is contributing. Why deprive her of this? If you just can’t stomach Spam, maybe you can make it into a game with your kids: Whoever eats the most gets out of doing the dishes. Or else get Aunt Betty drunk, and remove the Spam when she’s looking the other way. If she asks where it is, tell her you already devoured it. Just make sure that when you scrape it into the trash can, you bury it beneath the potato peels.
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See our Ultimate Guide to Thanksgiving for more.