Compost bins are half full

Laid Bear

I used to get home after a tough day at high school and watch shows on the Travel Channel to unwind. Other than the usual Anthony Bourdain shows, I’d find myself watching shows on American food more often than I wanted to. Typically, the hosts of these shows satiated their appetites with the largest helpings of food I had ever seen, and often, they didn’t even finish it. At the time, instead of scrutinizing the shows, I was amused by the superhuman gastronomic feats of these hosts, which kept me watching.

In many countries outside the United States, shows such as “Man v. Food” have shaped people’s perspectives on what food is like in America. Before coming to the United States to attend UC Berkeley, many members of my family advised me against eating too much “American food.” They imagined I would eat the same greasy hamburgers, hot dogs and pizzas they saw on TV. I remember arguing that Americans didn’t always have hamburgers, just like we Indians didn’t always have chicken tikka masala or daal.

I have been fortunate enough to visit more than 25 countries, and nowhere have I encountered food portions so woefully large as in the United States. From the extremes of French cuisine, with a minimal amount of food served on an enormous white plate, to the modest food helpings in South East Asia, nothing could compare to the large portions of the United States.

I found many studies published on why the U.S. and countries across the world have been facing this problem of increasingly large portions of food. One of the studies proposed that because of economic and technological advancements, the food containers we eat from have become larger. This increase in size has subliminally urged us to fill these larger plates by eating more. In one of my high school economics classes, we also discussed how, after World War II, many Western countries, including the U.S., had subsidized agriculture. Farmers could grow more food cheaply. Companies soon followed suit by increasing their serving sizes.

These large food portions result in large amounts of food waste. In every restaurant I eat at, I have always seen people return plates still filled with food. Either they can’t finish the massive pieces of fried meat or they just can’t complete their large portions. I’ve even witnessed this in dining halls. You know how people ask you whether a glass is half full or half empty? When I go to put my plate away, the trash bin is always more than half full to me. People tend to take more than they can eat and end up throwing away the rest.

On beautiful, sunny days I generally walk down Durant Avenue with a smile, only to find myself suddenly stepping on the gooey remnants of a half-eaten pizza slice. Half-eaten boxes of fries and unfinished rice bowls are always strewn on the pavement. People throw away without hesitation entire meals that could feed other people.To put this in perspective, each day, U.S. households waste 150,000 tons of food. This estimate averages to about a pound wasted per person each day. Despite this surplus of food, nearly one in six Americans faces hunger. When we put this food waste into a year’s analysis, these statistics become even more alarming. Nearly 40 percent of food in the United States is thrown out every year, worth about $165 billion. The accumulation of this wasted food could feed 25 million Americans.

I feel food portions should be rationed in a more economical way. Food is cheap but that does not mean we should exploit the plentiful resources we have.

I have understood the importance of being conscientious about wasting our food. In the dining halls, I take as much food as I can eat. When I can’t finish something in a restaurant, I pack it up and take it to my room. If I buy fruit, I keep it in proper conditions so that it is preserved and also protected from fruit flies. Individual initiative is important, but what if the student body in Berkeley created a community food bank with the wasted food? This way, food could be distributed more efficiently, and maybe, some people who used to go to bed hungry would finally sleep in relief.

Abhishek writes the Friday blog on the financial and economic aspects of being an international student. Contact him at [email protected] .