Yesterday I dined at a local pizzeria and had a thoroughly enjoyable experience despite witnessing two people at a neighbouring table make a scene.
They were nursing drinks when I showed up, but had apparently not eaten anything yet. By the time I had finished my pizza, all they had accomplished was consume a few more beverages between them while chatting in a foreign language - I didn't know what they were talking about, but it sounded like a pleasant enough conversation highlighted by an occasional chuckle and plenty of smiles. When they finally got around to ordering, I was already thinking about whether or not I should have an espresso, and before too long their pizzas and my coffee arrived, and all was well in the world... for about a half-second. The man started complaining, and I heard something about mushrooms. A second server showed up to see what was the matter, and the words "not enough" and "double mushrooms" drifted over. The woman chimed in, echoing her companion's concern about too few mushrooms, and all of a sudden there were four people talking over each other with raised voices. One of the servers offered to send the pizzas back and have new ones made up with extra mushrooms, but the damage had been done. The man refused to take either of the pizzas and was not interested in letting the restaurant redeem itself by getting the order right on the second try. He stood up to make his point more intensely and paid for the drinks, then the couple left, complaining loudly to each other all the way to the door.
I couldn't have asked for better entertainment.
At this point, I could don my play-by-play commentator hat and do a slow-motion replay of the situation, analyze the motivations of the key players, and point out where different behaviours could have produced a better outcome, but this blog is about environmental health issues. And the bottom line is that two fresh, hot, probably extremely tasty pizzas were tossed in the garbage last night - meanwhile people not only in developing countries but also within a few km of the restaurant continue to go hungry.
I can't comment on the reasons the unwanted pizzas ended up thrown out (and who knows, maybe the kitchen staff were eating them out of view), but I know that sending back food for reasons other than a physical intolerance to certain ingredients, or the desire to have the meal reheated because it arrived at the table too cold, is unacceptable. If you don't want something on your plate, make sure you make that very clear when ordering. Sure, mistakes can still happen, but we ought to be taking every step to prevent perfectly edible food from being wasted. In the case of the couple from last night, I believe there was no justification for letting that meal end up in the trash - too few mushrooms does not make a pizza inedible. And like the manager said after his irritated patrons had left, "it's not brain surgery, it's just mushrooms".
Every time food goes to waste, I feel sorry for the farmers who grew it, the workers who processed it, and the water, energy, and other resources that were involved from field to tummy that could have been put to better use if the food ends up in the garbage. So I try really hard to cook with the ingredients in my fridge before they spoil, consume leftovers quickly, buy food I like and have planned a meal around, and order exactly what I want in restaurants, in the hopes that I can keep food waste to a minimum.
What about you? What are the main reasons you trash food? What gets in the way of being able to consume everything you buy at the store?
Photo credits: pizza oven; poster.