We had a recent get together with friends at our house. It was a great time, but I was a little disappointed after everyone went home, and I found someone’s dinner plate in the kitchen:
It was a buffet-style meal after all, and this was all the pasta that remained in the serving dish:
What a Waste
If you’ve ever worked in a restaurant kitchen like I have, you probably won’t be surprised to hear that the United States leads the world in squandering food. Americans waste 150,000 tons of food each day – equal to a pound per person – and food is the single biggest occupant in our landfills.
It’s as if food really is as abundant as in Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, where free food drops from the sky. (Catastrophically too much eventually, but that’s a whole other issue).
And in the U.S., food is plentiful, assuming you have the resources to buy it. Of course, not everyone does.
As an economics major in college, the professors drill into you the folly of Thomas Malthus, who wrote that population growth would eventually lead to great hardship and famine, as the mouths outnumber our ability to fill them.
That hasn’t come to pass (in the First World, anyway), as farming efficiency (due to mechanization and better plants and herbicides/pesticides) has increased at an even faster rate. Just think of how few of your relatives or friends are farmers, and you get a good sense of what this efficiency has wrought – the ability for most people to concentrate on non-food-producing endeavors.
Like most people, I have agrarian roots in the family tree. In fact, some branches are still farming. My aunt and uncle run a fruit farm on Long Island. As a second career, my sister and husband run a blossoming (hehe) flower farm. So I still feel close to the soil, even if I don’t till it myself. Maybe that’s why food waste seems personal.
“Slap to the Face”
It’s more than that though. When we were on vacation, one of the kids was struggling to clean his plate. “That’s a real slap to the face of the waiter, if you don’t finish your food,” I said. “And it’s a slap to the face of the chef. And it’s a slap to the face of the truck driver who delivered the food…”
“And it’s a slap to the face of the farmer who planted the seed and harvested the crop,” said Nora, joining in on the fun.
“And ultimately, it’s a slap to the face of God, who gave humans dominion over the earth and asked us to be good stewards of its resources,” I concluded.
Fetch Me a Doggie Bag
Besides proving a point, I don’t normally believe in pressuring anyone to ingest more than they are comfortable eating, because food consumed beyond what is needed for daily use is wasted by the body. Or added to bodily fat stores that will never be called upon, despite their strategic positioning there in the upper arms, all ready to spring into action.
But I do believe in:
- Not ordering/taking more than you can readily eat
- Doggie bags
- Practicing gratitude – thanking God for every meal
- Praying and working for those who go without – see How Should We Respond to Needy People on the Street
- Taking a regular inventory of the fridge, to determine what needs to be eaten before it spoils
- Composting anything organic that does go bad
My Own Worst Enemy
A final note (mostly to myself): Don’t become a nazi about food waste or anything similar. Your obnoxiousness might repel potential allies, and distract from bigger-picture issues.
And it might turn your own kid into a chubby version of their former selves. A couple years ago, after years of enduring “Clean Plate Ranger” lessons and the virtues of chasing down every crumb on your plate, Pippa flew to the Dominican Republic with a school service group. When she came back a week later, she said she had gained ten pounds.
“What happened?” I asked, incredulously.
“Our host family kept filling my plate, and I kept emptying it,” she related.
Oh yeah, I forgot about Latin hospitality. Whoops!
Menard Solve says
I often tell my kids never put food they can’t finish on their plate. But I also ask my wife never to eat our kids’ leftovers. I’d rather she throw them away or put them in the fridge for them to eat later. The extra calories could make her gain weight and risk costly health issues in the future. Great post, BTW.
Nice job looking out for the kids…and the wife. I only throw food away under duress.
Peta Evans says
I don’t mind throwing away food, I don’t want it to end up in the ocean wrapped around a dolphin’s neck.