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Fear of Wasting Food

  • Eating

A client and I had an interesting chat about wasting food. She was raised on a tight budget, with her grandmother insisting that everyone finish the food on their plates.

I understood: My father would sit with me and read the NY Telegram until every morsel on my plate was socked away into my stomach. Many of us were raised to think that throwing out food was reason to call the major crimes unit to haul us away. Many of us would be wrong. 

What we sensed and came to believe when people told us as children not to waste food was that we were bad if we did. Such an act was unacceptable, shameful, disapproved of by whoever was in authority. For whatever reasons, they were trying to make us feel the behavior was wrong because it never occurred to them that they weren’t right.

If you’re serious about becoming a “normal” eater, it’s time to come to terms with this nonsense—yes, nonsense—about wasting food. Here’s how the Oxford Language online dictionary defines waste: “use or expend carelessly, extravagantly, or to no purpose.” Let me use myself as an example to prove that you’re not wasting food just because you don’t eat it. I never left food on my plate carelessly nor, I bet, do you. I thought long and hard about doing it, then failed to. Nothing careless about the struggle. Nor would I have called it extravagant if I didn’t finish my food. I was hardly overdoing or showing off. And last, I would have an excellent purpose for leaving food on my plate—to stop eating because I was full or satisfied.

Once you’ve been given or have paid for food, you get to do with it what you will. You accept it with the understanding that it’s now yours and you can make decisions about what to do with it. By purchasing food, you technically own it. You can wear it as a hat, eat it or feed it to your dog. What you’ve paid for is the right to do what you want with it. 

Here’s what to do with food you don’t want: put it away, give it away or throw it away. You can stop eating and put it aside for another time in which case you may remember to eat it or forget all about it. Fine either way. It’s your choice. Or you can give it away. My neighbor called a few months ago because his partner had made a huge turkey pot pie and wanted to know if my husband and I wanted any. A lovely gesture, though we refused it with hearty thanks. If it makes you feel less guilty finding a new home for your food, by all means offer it to someone who’d like it. But no forcing food on folks who clearly have no interest in it, especially by guilt-tripping them into accepting it.

Last, you can throw food out simply because you’re full or satisfied. It’s all legal, ethical and moral and no one will starve because you got rid of something you had enough of or didn’t want in the first place.