On Throwing Food Away

“There is so much food on this planet that we could feed everyone. Yes, there are people who are starving, but it is not the lack of food, it is the lack of love that allows this to happen.” — Louise Hay

Recently some friends and I decided to indulge in an all-you-can-eat buffet. And by ‘indulge’, I really meant we ate until we were too full to move. It’s hard not to go overboard when faced with a cornucopia of mouth-watering food. There was a dizzying array of dishes, from roasts to stir-fries to various soups and salads, not to mention a huge selection of desserts. The food wasn’t exactly gourmet, but still tasty and flavourful. And it was priced nicely for an all-you-can-eat buffet.

For nearly two hours, we ate and chatted as we moved back and forth between our table and the ever-abundant buffet, which never seemed to run out of food despite the fact that the restaurant was packed with hungry diners. I even remarked to my friends that we were getting great value for money because the buffet was still being restocked even though it was approaching closing time.

As closing time drew near, the restaurant crowd began thinning and the staff began dimming the overhead lights over the buffet. My friends and I kept chatting as we finished our desserts since we had another half-hour before we had to leave the restaurant.

During a break in conversation, I watched the restaurant staff clear the buffet while staring wistfully at the delicious food I was now too full to eat. The staff moved quickly and efficiently as they lifted the overflowing trays of food off the warmers and tipped them into a trolley they were pushing behind the counter.

Still lost in my post-gluttony haze, I began wondering what happened to the leftovers. I hope the staff get to take them home, I thought. It was then I saw that the trolley I thought was being to store the leftovers was actually a wheeled garbage bin labelled ‘Food Waste’.

They were throwing away all that freshly-cooked food.

My heart sank. Most of that food being thrown away had left the kitchen only fifteen minutes before. And I began to feel terribly guilty.

As a child, I had been trained never to waste food. My parents used to tell me how lucky I was to have regular meals, because they grew up in poor families and often didn’t have enough to eat. As a result, I dutifully ate everything on my plate. Even today, I keep any leftovers and eat them the next day.

So watching all that perfectly good food in that restaurant being thrown away was incredibly heartbreaking. I already knew that most restaurants throw away their leftovers, but to see so much food being thrown away first-hand was a sombre eye-opener.

Although I wasn’t the one physically throwing away the food, I still felt complicit in allowing this to happen. I thought of the people experiencing hunger in other parts of the world, not to mention the homeless on the streets of Melbourne. And meanwhile I had patronised a restaurant that cooked enough food to feed fifty people knowing it was to be thrown out in fifteen minutes.

I can’t save the food that got thrown out that night, but I see this experience as a lesson to be more conscious about my role in food wastage. So I’ve decided to avoid all-you-can-eat buffets from now on, and I definitely won’t be returning to that particular restaurant.

I’ve also begun to realise the increasing importance of cooking my own food, which I will try to do more of. At least in my own kitchen I can ensure that perfectly good food doesn’t go to waste.