After I became conscious of food waste a few years ago, I considered it my duty to stop it in every way that I could. I feel no shame asking waiters to hold certain sides or ingredients of my order that I know I won’t want to eat. I have become accustomed to inspecting the contents of my fridge and pantry to check how close things are to expiring, so that I know to eat them sooner. I take leftovers home whenever I can, be it in a restaurant’s doggy-bag or my friend’s Tupperware after a potluck. And, for several years, I felt compelled to finish the food off of my friends’ plates. Very recently, though, I realized that this last effort was actually doing me and my anti-food-waste crusade a disservice.
One of my biggest problems with food waste is how disrespectful it is. In addition to all of the environmental and economic illogicality of throwing away good, uneaten food, there is just an ethical wrongness to treating it so carelessly. You can consider all of the people who are hungry and all of the effort and resources that went into getting that food to you; but, also, you should just respect it as a beautiful thing that gives us life. This was my motive for insisting on eating my friends’ unfinished food that was definitely headed for the garbage: ‘I need to stop this from being wasted. I need to make sure its full value is enjoyed.’
Although I only had the best intentions, I was just causing myself undue anxiety. Already satisfied by my own meal, I would gobble up whatever my friends had left, which often left me feeling overfed and regretful – not proud of saving food from the dumpster. Moreover, my friends started expecting it of me, sometimes even taunting me by saying things like, “Are you sure you don’t want it? I’m not going to finish it…” Rather than inspiring my friends to stop being wasteful, I was just acting as their personal garbage truck (yes, a couple of them actually jokingly referred to me that way and as a ‘food vacuum’).
Just recently, though, it hit me: I am responsible for cherishing my food, and you are responsible for yours. I can lament the fact that something is going to be tossed out and try to convince you to change your mind, but there is no reason I should feel guilty for your wasteful choices. From now on, if I eat off of your plate, it will be because your food looks tasty and I want to have some – not out of some misplaced sense of culpability.
Don’t try to fight food waste alone. Spread the message.