You know, it’s interesting to me that we often discuss waste, but not much in the literal sense. More in the abstract sense of “waste of time, waste of emotions, ugh Trump is such a waste of space” that kind of thought. “That boy is not worth my time,” the usual kind of relationship material featured on mainstream music like Taylor Swift. Maybe it’s more romantic than talking about actual, straight up, physical waste.
I don’t remember where I read this from, so forgive me if the forgotten source detracts from the credibility of my blog post, but Americans do waste 40% of their groceries on average. When I came across this figure, I paid attention to the amount of food I unearthed in the fridge that had gone bad because it was shoved way in the back, or we simply ran out of time before it started getting inedible, and ashamedly I admit it was probably close to that figure that particular week. After that, I tried to stay on top of things and remember to use up food while it was fresh, but this new mindfulness conflicts with my natural hoarder mentality to tuck everything away and save it “for next time.” Especially during college, when I had the occasional frame of mind to focus on making food with real ingredients and not instant ramen, I would open the fridge and stare aghast at the over-aged, sad-looking, withered bok choy and the molded cheese and fruit (It had only been a week!)
I grew up in a household where a few grains of rice left on my bowl prompted my mother to warn me that the amount of grains remaining equaled the amount of pimples on my future husband’s face. Even though some unused ingredients manage to slip through here and there, my parents had known a harder life than I had, and know the value of food. I’m not saying it was helpful or fun to hear a voice constantly guilting you of all the African and Asian children starving when you couldn’t finish your noodles or felt unmotivated to eat the rest of the fried rice- I was too young to understand anything from it anyway except that it made me feel bad. Regardless, the general rule was that until the food placed on your plate was empty, your butt was not allowed to leave the chair. This plus my eating problems resulted in many nights of sitting at the kitchen table for hours.
In contrast, my friend and I talked about the occasional dinner to a white friend’s house, and finding it absolutely blasphemous when they couldn’t finish their dinners, instead of putting it in the fridge as leftovers, the simple answer to most things was to throw it out. And while I am certain this was not the scenario for every white family, or even my scenario for every Asian family, there seemed to be a common theme for some differences, particularly for how privileged the family or generation is at the time as well.
Many other countries consider Americans lazy, pampered slobs. In many ways, they are right. When other countries think of McDonalds and obesity first, that’s kind of upsetting. Going to Taiwan and Japan, many parts of the culture revolves around the theme of moderation. I find that every single napkin handed to me by the waiter in Japan is petite, and valued. Place this image side by side to the food court at some American mall, where some dude walks by and grabs an unnecessarily large wad of napkins, all to jam into his face as he eats a burger and fries. Sometimes, I get frustrated that I have to walk a couple blocks to the subway station in Taiwan just to find a trash can to throw a cup out, but you know what? It works. Furthermore, Denmark has transformed into waste-to-energy country, with a Zero Waste system in place. I’m pretty happy to be an American, and I am proud to call myself one, but on the other hand, why is it that such a powerful, great nation is unable to achieve what many other smaller countries already have?
Another facet of waste that I see often that is a personal pet peeve of mine, is the waste of water. Let me begin by saying that I definitely waste water- I am very guilty of taking long hot showers, especially when I’m having an off day. It’s one of the best feelings in the world. But what really gets me is when people take their time examining their face in the mirror and leave the faucet running for a minute or more. I see this all the time in public bathrooms, and it BOTHERS ME. Because well, at least the hot shower was contributing to someone’s happiness, but this is just well, plain waste for no reason at all except habit.
I love watching cooking shows. But every time the judge takes one bite of food and then leaves the rest, I can’t help but assume that the remaining food is thrown away. I cringe when I see Joe Bastianich throw the entire plate into the trash can just because it’s not up to his standards. I mean, is that really necessary? While I’m on cruises, I get excited when I know that I get to order as many things as I want, try and taste different plates, because well, the whole point of the cruise is to spoil yourself and get all glutinous, right? A part of me says not to, but I still end up picking maybe two things and not finishing all of it.
I am a hypocrite, but as I’ve grown older, I’ve watched more documentaries (“Living On One Dollar A Day”, courtesy of Netflix, hop on it folks) on why and how people who count every drop and every bite of food, and I’ve had few moments when I was alone and had little access to buy a meal or go grocery shopping. Of course, my spare moments are nothing to complain about, but I just mean that I had a very minor taste in what it could be like to be hungry and make every bit count. I’ve walked by the streets and seen homeless people waiting to get enough for the next meal, or been asked to donate some money to organizations. Listen, I know none of us are exactly able to dump out our pockets and just give it all away, because soon enough, one after the other there are more and more causes piling up, it’s endless. The ongoing problems in our world rarely end, especially the common themes of war, hunger, poverty, politics, inequalities, etc.. But maybe I can honor the organizations and people a little bit by trying harder than I am now not to waste. It doesn’t kill me to make that tiny choice of finishing the rest of the food for tomorrow, it doesn’t kill me to decide to research a few ways to use “waste,” such as using stale bread to make bread pudding, or overripe bananas into smoothies. Even throwing waste into the garden patch is better than just throwing it into the can! It doesn’t kill me to form the habit of remembering to turn off the faucet more frequently. I’m not saying, force yourself to eat the sad-looking, withered bok choy or the expired cheese. Just being more mindful of little choices everyday is a great habit to have, despite our flaws and our desires to be less so. We know there are better solutions out there, and it must be a goal to better our methods from the personal habits to society’s answer to waste and pollution.