Wasting food seems to be an appropriate concern if there ever was one. After all, if people are hungry and food costs money, throwing away food or not eating food would appear to be unnecessary at best. At worst, food waste is a “stick-it-in-your-face” aspect of Capitalist contempt for the rest of the world. Never mind for the time being that a not insignificant portion of the hunger in the world ironically comes from food being wasted by the hungry countries themselves. But let’s not be persuaded by history and evidence – we are in a higher education institution after all.
For example, if I am at a restaurant and do not finish the large meal that I ordered, people would consider that wasteful. If I purchase so much food that I end up using some of it as a yard game (such as exploding burritos with baseball bats) then people are likely to consider that wasteful. Food seems, at least to some people, to have “appropriate” uses — the corn we stick into gas tanks notwithstanding.
We addressed these and other arguments before (I’ll post a list of these below). But suppose we grant that these are legitimate concerns. And suppose we grant that the production of waste has no insurance aspects whatsoever. This still does take a pretty narrow view of the problem of food waste. Remember how food is produced and distributed. It is produced and distributed by trading off other goods for more food. In other words, when I decide to buy the 16 ounce porterhouse instead of the 9 ounce, I am actually saying that I prefer the extra 7 ounces of steak to the $7.00 that I would have spent on two rolls of hockey tape. In this sense, food and hockey tape are the same thing.
I’ve seen people who seem to have an affinity for collecting hockey tape. At worst people might find such a thing quirky. At best, folks may even admire the effort required to compile 100s of different rolls of hockey tape. But how come I rarely (ever?) hear people scold these folks, “you know, children are starving in Africa!”
But of course to be consistent it would seem to me that they should. You see, folks who scold you for “wasting food” are simply elevating their preference for food as a value more important than any other. And this has to be the case otherwise every single thing you spend your resources on other than food means that you could have been purchasing food (and presumably sending it to the poor, or purchasing directly for them). The guy collecting hockey tape is not so much quirky as really a mass murderer. He, by definition, is responsible for the death of several people each year around the world. Surely the use of resources on hockey tape could have been put to use growing, distributing and consuming more food. Yet we consume hockey tape blissfully while people go starving around the world.
Just because in the case of me tossing uneaten burritos into the trash, or playing baseball with a burrito, or feeding burritos to animals seems to be a visible “waste” of a burrito (as if it mattered), does not make that any more of a “waste” of burritos and food than spending resources on anything else. This is in fact the core lesson of economics applied to food waste. In fact, this is the “virtue” of economics. It is that it takes the “unseen,” the forgotten man so to speak, out of the shadows and into our consciousness. It is a study that requires an understanding of others so that we may understand ourselves.
What should you do with this information? I have no idea. I certainly don’t want you to become the anti-food-Nazi Nazi!
For the benefit of readers, here is a quick assemblage of some of the previous posts here on waste and on recycling (there are others):
- Is some waste actually “productive?” Can waste actually save resources?
- Does tossing out your food, and taking too much from the cafeteria really take food out of the stomachs of the poor and needy?
- What might “waste” possibly mean?
- Is it inefficient to ship waste?
- If markets produce waste, does that mean all other settings don’t?
- Measuring the success of a program by measuring inputs
- Does recycling always save resources?
- Recycling as predatory pricing
UPDATE: I just ran into this piece on Tree Hugger about how much turkey we “waste” on Thanksgiving.