Friday, September 17

Waste Not, Want Not

I’ve always thought that was such an odd expression. While the meaning is (to most people who are not me) clearly “if you don’t waste it, you won’t be left wanting in the future”, my imagination has always thought it sounded more like one of two things. The first is “don’t waste it, and don’t want it”. I’m convinced it’s all the fault of that comma…

Anyway, semantic wrinkle in the Universe duly denounced, I move on to today’s topic, which is another wrinkle in the Universe it would be nice to have ironed out. During my recent trip to Spain, it was necessary for us to stay in a few hotels. By the end of the week, I was thoroughly tired of the experience. More on that in the future, but one of the things that started overwhelming me by Day 6 was the amount of food that gets wasted in hotels.

The photo above shows that part of the standard delivered-to-the-room breakfast which we didn’t touch. In addition to all of those rolls and pastries came an abundance of eggs, ham, sausages, sautéed veggies, toast, juice and coffee/tea which we just managed to finish. Is someone seriously expecting anyone (triathlon-types excepted) to eat all of that as well?

I didn’t sneak any photos, but buffet breakfasts on this trip told a similar story. Piles of scrambled eggs, fried eggs, chocolate cakes, fruit tarts, mini-sandwiches, sausages and bacon soaking in grease, enormous quiches, fruit salads and what not assembled and waiting, and most of it getting packed up at close of breakfast and taken away behind the screens to be quietly done away with. I wonder if hotels think you need to see mountains of food at your disposal so that you don’t feel so bad paying them high rent for small spaces.

There is broader issue here. Almost everyone throws away a lot of food at the end of a day – restaurants, bakeries, patisseries, sandwich shops and supermarkets. True, some do give surpluses away to charities, but they are a slim minority. And my question is: why are we producing so much if we can only eat so much?

I’m going to keep an eye out on this issue and find out more, but for the moment, I wonder if small steps wouldn’t help. For example, after taking that photograph, I thought that maybe next time, if I know I’m not going to have the pastries, I should just let room service know and ask them not to bring any. Maybe, just maybe, this could filter through to the kitchen’s purchasing decisions. This strategy will not be without its challenges (try explaining to a chef or waiter in Europe that you want something that’s not on the menu – more on this in a future post), but I’ll give it a shot. Which brings me to my imagination’s second interpretation of the “waste not, want not” mantra: waste not what you don't want.

I’d be glad to hear from our readers if you’ve felt similarly about food wastage in hospitality and catering establishments, or if you have any experiences and tips to share.



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