It is a rule we are taught from the moment we begin eating solid food and of which we are reminded constantly from that point onward: don’t waste food. Don’t waste food because there are children starving and crops dying, so be thankful for every single morsel. Scraping uneaten food into the trash is supposed to evoke a guilt so powerful that we should be willing to eat and eat and eat, even if it hurts.
However, encouraging people, especially young children, to clean their plates is a dangerous path. The Mayo Clinic confirms that encouraging children to finish everything fosters a disconnect between the body and mind by teaching them to ignore hunger cues. This disconnect makes deciphering one’s hunger level more difficult throughout life, leading to overeating.
Yet, these zero-food-waste parents seem to have the moral high ground, especially because their philosophy has legitimate reasons: our food use in the Western world is inefficient. The average Canadian household wastes 140 kilograms of food a year. Meanwhile, 5.8 million Canadians live in food insecurity — a figure that is rising as inflation skyrockets.
What I disagree with is not the statistics but rather that finishing your last slice of pizza is a part of the solution to food waste. The real issue lies within the food industry, namely grocery stores and restaurants. Grocers throw out a large portion of their food because it reaches the best-before date before their overstocked displays of fruits and vegetables and beautiful aisles stuffed to the brim can be consumed. In fact, in 2010, US retail stores alone created 43 billion pounds of food waste. Eating out won’t solve this problem either because the average restaurant throws out four to 10 per cent of its food. Ultimately, this means that 600,000 tonnes of food waste come from restaurants each year.
Instead of fretting over stray crumbs, we need to look into more efficient solutions than guilt. Applications like Too Good to Go and Flashfood show you local Toronto food that is discounted for being close to its best-before date. This is food that would be abandoned by grocery stores and restaurants and therefore is made available for cheap.
We should be thankful for every morsel of food we have because there are crops dying and children starving. And a lot of work does go into every single bite of food we take, from the littlest blueberry to the fanciest cheesecake. However, the guilt the majority of the population experiences over their own personal food waste is a sad misplacement of shame that should rest with the restaurant and food retail industry instead.