I have a hot take. When you waste food at a restaurant, specifically meat, you are doing something wrong. Before you jump to the conclusion that I'm just another angry vegan, hear me out.
Every day I serve people delicious food. Giant bowls of mussels chalked full with cilantro and fresh red bell peppers; octopus displayed decadently with chimichurri sauce; and colorful cabbage salads piled high with tarot. The smell of chili crisp, cilantro and garlic is a pleasant aroma always wafting through the restaurant.
Most days, I enjoy my job. Serving is something I view as temporary, not a career. But I do like it. I like being part of someone’s special night out. Helping them relax, unwind, and enjoy some good food with friends, and family. Working somewhere where the food is good, the money is good, and the owners feel like family, makes the job feel easy (for the most part).
But there are some parts of serving that I do not find easy. Some aspects even make me feel guilty. Most of what I feel guilty about is the idea of food in a restaurant. Specifically, how easy it is for some people to throw away a good portion of their meal.
Sometimes I throw away legs of octopus from someone's meal and wonder how someone could not eat an animal that was only killed specifically for them to eat. Our focus on food relies so much on personal taste and convenience.
The Focus On Taste
In restaurants, food is seen less as a source of fuel for the body and is a source of enjoyment. The focus of food is on taste, comfort, and convenience.
People want to eat what tastes good, what makes them feel good and what they can eat the easiest way. These ideas are a trend to how food is viewed in western society. ( I can’t speak to other parts of the world). Most people in Canada and the United States don’t live in survival mode. We can afford to be at least a little choosy with the food we eat. We buy what we think tastes good and avoid what we think tastes bad.
This idea isn’t a problem and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have this value. I love eating greasy pizza or bao buns, purely because they taste good. I think this idea is only a problem when people ignore other values completely. If people only order what tastes good and treat the food they eat as a matter of convenience, I think this causes more suffering in the world than there needs to be.
That may seem like a strange connection to make. How does suffering relate to food? Well what tastes good isn’t always what is the most ethical to eat. And what is convenient in terms of food isn’t always the most ethical action.
Convenience is epitomized at the grocery store. In an age when we can buy nearly anything from the aisles at the grocery store, it becomes easy to forget the reality behind what we are eating. For example, when buying flour, we don’t see the milling process required to make the flour. Buying steak, we don’t see the cow we are eating or what happened to it. While convenience has made our lives easier and better we have become more dissociated from the food we eat.
This dissociation from the food we eat, makes it easy to buy more food and forget what we are eating. This makes it easier to eat things we might not have otherwise. For example, some people might not be okay with eating an animal they had to kill themselves or watch die.
In restaurants, the focus is on guest experience. The food has to taste good and nobody wants to see how their food is made. This is understandable. I wouldn't want a night out at a restaurant where the food tasted bad and you have to watch the exact process of its making, from farm to table.
However, this experience also makes it easier for people to waste food. If you never have to see the handwork and suffering that goes into making your food, (on account of the ingredients and the workers), you might be more quick to throw the food you don't want away.
I often wonder, if that guest had to take the life of that octopus, cow or pig themselves, would they still have wasted it?
Is All Food Waste Equal?
I also find myself wondering, if all food waste is equal in being wrong to throw away. When I find myself throwing away half a plate of chicken or octopus, I feel angry. Wasting meat seams worse than wasting half a salad or half a plate of Brussel sprouts. I think about the animals that gave up their lives for someone to barely eat their bodies.
The sacrifice required to eat meat is a life. When you eat anything you are choosing the value of taste or nutrition over the value of that life. In terms of eating meat, I believe it is especially important to remember this. Particularly because we ourselves are animals. We can relate to how other animals might be feeling. As well, other animals may relate to use better than most of us believe.
Some animals, such as some birds and octopus, have been declared likely conscious by the Cambridge declaration of consciousness. (Link here: http://fcmconference.org/img/CambridgeDeclarationOnConsciousness.pdf)
The Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness states that “Humans are not unique in possessing the neurological substrates that generate consciousness.”
Considering this, I think wasting meat is the worst type of food waste. Choosing to value the taste of meat over the life of the animal and wasting it, feels deeply disrespectful.
A study looking at food waste in America found that 40% of food is wasted. Food waste isn't just a problem in restaurants, food in shops and in the home is also wasted.
The 2021 UN Food Waste Index found that 17% of the food available to consumers is thrown away directly into the garbage. This is food from shops, restaurants and homes.
With so much of our food being wasted, maybe it’s time to shift our perspective away from centering what we eat purely on the value of taste.
Respect for life is a value that would benefit from being integrated into the ethics of eating. Understanding and knowing the suffering that makes eating food possible, whatever you eat, makes you more grateful of the food you have. Being more grateful even has health benefits for people. (Read more here: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/what-mentally-strong-people-dont-do/201504/7-scientifically-proven-benefits-of-gratitude).
Some people argue we can eat and waste however much food we want because we can and are able to. As humans we have some level of superiority. However, I would argue there are many things we can do, it does not mean we should. But enough about me, what do you think?
Thanks for reading :) Feel free to share your thoughts below
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I agree with all of your points. I appreciate the data included. Portion sizes in restaurants tend to be over the top. People don’t always expect to have such large portions when ordering a meal. Restaurants would save money and avoid waste with appropriate portion sizes. However, I have done zero research and have no data to support this just my personal experience.
This was written so eloquently and passionately! I think your last point is very telling! congrats belatedly on TS!
I never cared for octopus - too chewy, and ever since watching the documentary “My Octopus Teacher,” I will never eat it again! I have been a vegetarian on and off since age 14, because the thought of eating a corpse disgusts me. I am currently a pescatarian. You make an excellent point. If an animal was killed for your meal, wasting its sacrifice is disrespectful.
If your company has financial problems, analyze the prices of your suppliers' competitors - you may find someone whose prices turn out to be more favorable, this will also save you money.
A great read, a well deserved top stories
A good writer says the things we know from a perspective we didn't. You're a good writer.
I agree that food waste is a huge issue; looking at it from a server's POV gives a really unusual — and important — angle. Thank you for sharing this on Vocal.
A great read, a well deserved top story 👏
"Thoughts of a Server" is a poignant and relatable reflection on the challenges and frustrations that come with working in the service industry. The author beautifully captures the emotional toll of dealing with difficult customers, long hours, and low pay, while also highlighting the importance of treating service workers with respect and appreciation. This piece serves as a reminder to all of us to be kind and understanding towards those who work in the service industry, and to recognize the hard work and dedication that goes into their jobs.
Love this article and your perspectives. Thinking about the meat and agriculture industry absolutely breaks my heart, obviously humans need to eat but the way it's currently done is so unnecessarily cruel. I hope more people start to realize that things aren't black and white; things can change for the better without everyone needing to instantly go vegan. Thanks so much for writing and sharing!
Excellent! This is such an important topic and you have expressed it so well. My wife and I always take home the food we don't finish at the restaurant.
It creates some awareness within me. Thank you for such an update.
You articulated so many of the points that concerned me regarding food waste and eating meat. So much can be benefited from adding respect to the food. A life was sacrificed for our enjoyment. This is why many cultures say grace at the table, to bless the food. This was also why humans did not eat as much of it as we do now. Meat was ceremonial. We lost that respect. I'm glad this made Top Story. ❤'d and subscribed 😊
Nice story! Eating meat is part of my spiritual beliefs. But I never waste food at restaurants, I get a to-go box… and I tip 20%. Working as a server is super hard. I did it for a week before quitting.
I really love the points you made. I know many people in first-world countries take our food for granted. They don't learn how it was grown or fed and how it was harvested or processed. They also don't consider how their food gets to their plate. Farmers, ranchers, truckers, and many other people play a part in feeding the masses.
Great article. Thank you for sharing!
Wonderful post Meg. Thank you for sharing! ❤
This is such an important perspective. thank you for sharing this.
Hi Meg! I have actually been thinking about this very topic since writing my octopus dilemma story the other day (I totally love that you mentioned that they are likely conscious!). For context, I've been vegetarian (and on and off vegan) since I was about 10. I think you really nailed the "why" in your explanations in this article. I really enjoy eating out but I do especially love when I can go to places that let you watch the food being prepared. Maybe that is because I am vegetarian though so I don't have the "dont want to think about it" part impacting me? I always take leftovers to go and make sure I eat them. I am bad, however, about wasting ingredients for cooking at home. I am going to be more intentional about avoiding that. Thanks for this article!!