Saturday, February 12, 2011

It's Not Brain Surgery, It's Mushrooms

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.


  1. two main food wasting habits are 1) buying an ingredient for a certain dish and not using all of it up (herbs, especially -- can anyone get through a whole bundle of parsley?), and 2) eating leftovers of food that wasn't especially good the first day. Also, my mom likes to give me food, and I'm not always in the mood for what she gives me (yet it seems churlish to refuse). I don't throw away a lot of food, but there's definitely room for improvement. I'm trying to grow some of my own herbs, for starters.

    By the way, I tried making bread again today and it actually came out. Yay! Do you have any favorite bread recipes to share?

  2. I happen to know a great bread recipe, or at least a great bread cookbook... it's called "Dough: Simple Contemporary Breads" by Richard Bertinet. He's a french baker that has an unusual method of kneading the dough, but the results are always extremely yummy! If you're interested, I can write down his basic-white recipe.

    As for wasting food, I'll admit that I have problems using up tomato paste... I only ever crack a tin open to use a tablespoon for a recipe, but I never have any idea what the heck to do with the rest.

  3. Ha, yes, large bundles of parsley are HUGE! And when I make food that doesn't really turn out, I talk to myself the way my mom used to talk to me: "There are people going hungry in this world, so you'll eat it and be grateful!"

    That doesn't make it taste better, but it helps me avoid just tossing the leftovers.

    Bertinet's basic white bread recipe is awesome. The book actually comes with a DVD so you can see what the kneading method should look like. No matter how much of the dough sticks to your hands in the first few minutes, by the time you're done, your hands are clean - a definite bonus.

  4. I love that poster from the U.S. Food Admin. Great!

  5. Yeah, I've seen a few old war posters, they're all well done. It's too bad that saving up, reusing items, supporting local economies, and reducing waste are only ever encouraged during hard times.

  6. So true! But we may be coming back to that - you saw Brazil's Shower PSA! : ) There may be more and more reminders/messages like this in the future.

    P.S. Just remembered - you may like Jessica's post:

  7. Thanks for sharing the link! It's always good to have a few recipes that can make use of softening/wilting veggies that are still perfectly edible.

  8. I hope the servers ate it in the back! :)

    I have totally changed how I view food these days, and have much more respect for it, what it took to grow it, produce it, and send it my way. I am really really trying to avoid food waste. So far I am doing much better than before.

    Tip for parsely - grow your own in a window in the kitchen, and just snip off what you need!!

  9. That's how I feel, Sherry: much more grateful for everything that went into getting the food from the soil to my plate.

    Thanks for the tip. Last year I received lots of parsley in my weekly CSA share, but I plan to grow other herbs in my windows at home!

  10. Ooh, I'll have to check out the Bertinet book. I'm suddenly having delusions that I could bake awesome bread from scratch all the time. :-)

    Some of my herbs on my windowsill are sprouting, but I forgot to label them, so I have to wait until they're bigger -- otherwise I might accidentally snip off some catnip instead of chives. That would be bad.