This weekend, I was talking to a 18 year old girl who worked at a Country Club for her summer job. We were discussing wealth disparity when she brought up the example of food waste in America. She complained that “practically everyone she served at the Country Club left uneaten food on their plate while there were starving children with no food at all in Africa.”
Her voice held the same tone of indignation as my grandmother’s voice the first time I was lectured about the starving children in Africa. Like my grandma, she was mad at the wastefulness of throwing perfectly good food food to rot uneaten in the trash.
That example worked on me when I was a kid, but things aren’t that simple anymore. I certainly believe there’s starving children in Africa. But, I’m not convinced that the act of an American finishing the food on their plate every time they sit down to eat is helping matters.
I say there’s more than one kind of waste.
Let’s say that person at the restaurant doesn’t finish their food and then remembers the starving children in Africa. Out of guilt, they manage to shovel the rest of the food into their mouth despite their lack of hunger. If this scenario happens enough, they eventually will start to store excess energy on their body.
You see? Just because you finished your food doesn’t mean waste ceased to happen. What about the waste of energy that they might never tap into on their body? While some fat stores are useful, it can become wasteful to keep all that energy close by and never tap into it for energy. You’re collecting, but not using.
I’d say that’s wrong.
Let’s also consider the reason why the person didn’t finish the food in front of them that day. She described it as, “a perfectly good plate of nachos.”
Hmm… perfectly good nachos. There are two options here…
1) The patron was not hungry
2) The patron does not like your nachos.
Let’s go with the first option. It’s simple. The person is not hungry.
If the person were starving, I’m pretty sure they’d finish their “perfectly good plate of nachos” – whether they liked them or not. It’s food after all.
We’re not hungry though.
I don’t think the average person understands what it means/feels like to experience real hunger. I fast during Lent, and one year I attempted to go an entire week on water alone. It’s possible. You’re body really can do amazing things if you ask it to. During that week, I experienced what I would call the phases of hunger.
- Initial hunger – your mind tells you to eat, but you resist. Your belly seems empty and maybe it makes some noise urging you to eat. You have a strong interest in food.
- Mild hunger – you acknowledge that you want to eat, but you resist. It sinks from your awareness. You think less about food because it’s not an option.
- Progressive hunger – you lose your spark. There’s no twinkle in your eye – but you’re unaware of it. You think everything is normal, but you’re walking around like a zombie. You don’t think about being hungry.
- Desperate hunger – (I never reached this stage – but in starvation experiments, they do.) You’ll do anything for food. It’s all you think about. You’re in survival mode.
American’s exaggerate that they’re “starving” all the time. They’re not even close.
Here’s the truth: we don’t understand what it’s like to be hungry because we’re always eating.
Almost every gathering occurs around food or beverage – and we gather frequently. Even if we’re not gathering, there’s access to food EVERYWHERE. You’re hungry when you’re pumping gas for your car? They’ve got food there. You’re hungry at library while you’re studying for school? They’ve got food there. You’re hungry at a baseball game? Don’t worry. They’ve got food there.
It’s no wonder we’re not finishing our plates. We eat all the time. Who would be hungry in that kind of environment?
If you want to waste less, try these tactics:
- Eat less and learn what it feels like to be “hungry”
- Learn to be comfortable with that feeling. You’re not going to die just because you’re hungry.
- Make sure you eat three times per day, but keep your meals small to ensure that you’re not overfilling yourself.
- If you start to gain weight, then make a plan to lose it. That’s how it’s supposed to work. You overate. Now you undereat to balance it.
- If eating less is hard. Burn more energy. Extended exercise (30 minutes or more at one time) taps into fat stores for energy.
- If you want to help starving children in Africa – spend less money on the food you didn’t need in the first place, put all that extra money you’re not spending on food in a fund and donate. There are lots of programs that ask for help funding to provide nourishment and resources for people in Africa. Try http://www.UNICEF.org. They’ll take your money – guaranteed. :)