Saturday, 24 October 2009

Leftovers

When I'm in a restaurant, I never cease to be amazed at the amount of food some people leave on their plate. I see servers lifting dishes that are still almost full and barely nibbled at.

When I was young, I was conditioned to eat every morsel of food and not waste what starving African children would be glad of. It was almost a crime to leave the smallest particle of edible matter.

So I'm always mystified by those virtually untouched piles of food. Did the diner not like it? Did they not feel hungry? Could they not eat because they were upset about something? Did they not want to look greedy? Do they have anorexia?

I'm fascinated by why someone ordered what they thought was a tasty, mouth-watering meal and then when it arrived at the table they lost all interest and let it sit there congealing.

Does the chef puzzle about it too, wondering whether their cuisine was so disgusting the recipient simply couldn't force it through their lips? Or do they just shrug their shoulders and say for the umpteenth time: "Customers, eh? A total mystery, the lot of them."

If I'm especially hungry, or if my own meal has been seriously skimpy, I'm often tempted to sneak up to the other diner's table and start eating the neglected food myself. I cast longing glances at their loaded plates and have to restrain myself from acting on behalf of ravenous Ethiopians and malnourished Eritreans.

Without fail my own plate is scrupulously cleared of every last titbit. I'd probably lick off the remaining juice if it weren't for the social outrage I'd cause.

The truth of it is I'm just too greedy to leave anything. And anyway, a clean plate is only fair to the washer-upper.

PS: Around 30% of British food ends up being thrown away, one of the highest figures in the world.

21 comments:

Suburbia said...

I can't bare throwing away good food, and like you I was conditioned to finish what was on my plate! Sometimes as a child, I would over eat to the point of feeling sick!

Nick said...

Suburbia - I don't remember feeling sick, my stomach is pretty resilient, but I certainly sometimes shoved things down that I didn't really want to eat.

Megan said...

What we don't eat, we take with us. Always.

Leah said...

Here in America, the portions are often unbelievably huge, even in better restaurants, but, like Megan, we always, always take our leftovers.

Nick said...

Megan - Yes, we do that sometimes when it's really impossible to eat everything.

Leah - We noticed how large the portions were when we were in the States. We also saw the film "Supersize Me"!

meno said...

I'm a huge fan of leftovers, so a to-go box is my best friend.

heartinsanfrancisco said...

I was forced to eat everything on my plate while guilted about the starving children wherever. I wondered why my parents didn't take all that liver and cauliflower and send it to them.

Most of the people in the world's richest countries are on a diet while those in other countries starve.

Nick said...

Meno - It certainly takes care of the next day's evening meal....

Heart - I'm chuckling at the thought of a consignment of liver and cauliflower arriving in Ethiopia. Very true about our food-laden countries being full of dieters.

kylie said...

i often wonder why people dont eat what they order, too.
the whole thing is obscene really

as for taking the left overs, i often do that and get home to wonder why i bothered. what looks an insurmountable amount on a full stomach is often only a couple of spoonfuls next day!

a reverse case of eyes bigger than stomach?

Nick said...

Kylie - Some restaurants here give such generous portions, there's easily enough for a substantial meal the next day! But why are portion sizes in restaurants so wildly variable anyway?

Wisewebwoman said...

And buffets, Nick, maybe they're a phenomenon of North America? A shrine to obesity which is so prevalent here. I've been at them and encouraged to go for plate #2 (or 3, 4, 5) and when I refuse and say one plate is enough there are screams of " what a waste!!!"
It is obscene.
XO
WWW

Nick said...

www - Buffets indeed, what a temptation to stuff yourself either at no extra expense or at someone else's expense. And how absurd to suggest you're wasting the food if you desist from cramming it down your throat!

Grannymar said...

I hate an overfull plate. Nowadays when in a restaurant I stick with a starter and main course or just the main course if I am not really hungry. Like you, I was brought up never to waste food. Being dairy intolerant gives me a great excuse to avoid desserts altogether.

Liz said...

I'm with you on that. I've even been known to run my finger around a plate if the gravy was particularly delicious!

I get upset when people leave their veg. I wnat to march up and say, 'It's good for you!'

Nick said...

Grannymar - What a perfect way of avoiding desserts! I usually find main courses are so filling I couldn't possibly manage a dessert anyway.

Liz - I've been known to run a finger round the plate myself. Whether that's due to pleasure or obsession I'm not entirely sure....

Megan said...

I've been thinking about this. I remember as a child my father sitting last and longest at the table, and finishing all the dishes. Not eating off our plates, but finishing the last of the bowl of peas, that last bit of potato, the last slice of meat...

His mother went through The Depression with 3 small children, and when he came along, years later, I think she may have imprinted him with some of her 'leftover' anxiety about never leaving food behind - because there may not be any the next day!

I'm going to ask him about that next time I'm over there...

Nick said...

Megan - That's fascinating. As you say, he probably absorbed the legacy of the Depression from his mother which explained his finish-it-off habits. But some people still wolf everything down as though there'll be nothing tomorrow!

Ramana Rajgopaul said...

I think that all cultures teach the young not to waste food. The parvenu however make a habit of wasting food to make a statement. I make it a point to be obnoxious whenever I come across this behaviour, and moralize. The only time when I am afraid, I tend to pontificate.

Nick said...

Ramana - Good for you moralising on the subject. I don't have the nerve to do so! As you say, some people are just making a statement about how well-off they are and therefore indifferent to the waste.

Baino said...

Never a problem in our house. What doesn't get eaten is taken for lunch the next day. It's the smorgasbord diners that get me. So many pile up their plate in one fell swoop rather than graze . .it just doesn't get eaten. Their 'eyes are bigger than their belly' as my gran used to say.

Nick said...

Baino - That's true, people pile their plates with everything in sight, and only then do they wonder whether they can actually eat it all....