The Varied Forms of Food Waste

by Katy on September 4, 2009 · 22 comments

food waste

The one and only lowlight of my recent trip to the Oregon coast was a spectacularly bad meal in a rather expensive restaurant. I ordered a bowl of clam chowder with a salad and my sons both treated themselves to seafood platters.

It was a huge disappointment.

The clam chowder was so thick and gelatanous that I actually tried the will it support the upright position of a metal spoon test. And yeah, it did — for over 30 minutes. The boys’ breaded seafood tasted like it had been battered and fried, sat around awhile and then re-fried when we placed our orders.

We hardly ate any of it.

The spectacular ocean view only slightly distracted from the vast array of uneaten food that littered our table. When the waitress asked if we wanted to pack up our leftovers I reluctantly declined. Yes, it was a shameful waste, but I did not see the point in forcing ourselves to eat unpalatable and unhealthy food in the name of food waste reduction.

I refuse to eat awful food unless I am truly ravaged with hunger, which I wasn’t.

The other form of food waste that doesn’t garner that much attention is overeating.

I certainly find myself eating beyond satiety because I don’t want to be *gasp* a food waster. I doubt there are many among us who do not make this a regular practice. Food is precious, we all know this. So we clean our plates, and often those of our children’s as well.

Must be a member of the clean plate club!

One could take this idea of overeating is food waste to a severe extreme. Do we really need ice cream, coffee or wine? How about spices or sugar?

But food is not simply calories with nutrients, it’s one of life’s great pleasures. It’s flavors and textures, sweet and salty, conversation and company.

But eating significantly beyond our caloric needs really is a form of food waste. I must be doing it, otherwise I wouldn’t be sporting these extra pounds that round out my Wolk-Stanley-esque curves.

But knowing that overeating is a form of food waste and doing something about it is hardly simple to address.

One book that takes a very research based approach to how our food intake is influenced by external factors is Mindless Eating:  Why We Eat More Than We Think, by Brian Wansink. This highly fascinating book recounts University studies that probe why we eat how much we do. (To give you an idea how engrossing this book is, my library copy was read by two completely separate house guests over the summer!)

It’s certainly true that there would be more food available if we were all to eat a little less. Unfortunately, the relationship between hunger and food waste in the home is not always so direct.

How do you feel about these forms of food waste? Should I have packed up the restaurant leftovers and gagged it down at a later date? Do you consider overeating to be a form of food waste? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

{ 20 comments… read them below or add one }

Kristen@TheFrugalGirl September 4, 2009 at 2:43 am

Yes, I think overeating is food waste. It’s not wasted in the trash, it’s wasted on your body, unless you end up eating a lot less later on (in which case your body would use the fat you stored).

I think the only appropriate way to deal with that is to just make/buy less food. That way I don’t have to eat myself into oblivion in order to use up the food we have.

I don’t think that ice cream, spices, and the like are wasteful. They’re things that make life enjoyable, and as long as you’re not ending up throwing them in the trash, I can’t consider them waste.


pobept September 4, 2009 at 3:52 am

I’m old enough to receive my old age check. I consume about 1000 calories daily, I still work in my welding shop 8 to 10 hours and do a little gardening. Eeeeek, I’m still getting bigger around the waste!!


Charyl September 4, 2009 at 7:09 am

The real food waste was the restaurant serving something so inedible. Also, most restaurants serve entirely too much food whick results in food waste because one simply shouldn’t eat that much food all at once. We should never force ourselves to overeat (especially bad food). It’s physically and emotionally unhealthy.


WilliamB September 4, 2009 at 7:31 am

There is no question that you made the right decision in not taking that schlock home. Your sensibilities and your wallet were already offended, no need to add your health to the list.

What I’m trying to figure out is why you didn’t complain about the food you had. I would have asked for the manager, explained why each dish was not up to par, and ask to get something else instead.

And then would have told the waitress that I would be tipping on the value of both meals *before* she placed the second order.


Kristen September 4, 2009 at 8:34 am

My grandmother is a registered dietitian. One of her biggest complaints is people that teach their kids to “clean their plate”. It just leads to bad eating habits especially in this day and age of huge portions. We always learned to eat x number of bites so that we ate a reasonable amount but feel we had to have an empty plate. Because of that I can leave food on my plate to use as leftovers (I quite often ask for a box to begin with and put half my food in before I start eating). Not wasting food but sacrificing your health is just as bad in my mind.


karen September 4, 2009 at 9:21 am

one variable on the topic we have at our house is almost laughable. It seems selfish to eat the last of something so we out-MN nice each other until the last bit ends up having to be tossed; each thinking they were being kind to save the last for the other. We have recently addressed the issue, lol.
I agree with WilliamB– I would’ve complained to the management. Serving less than stellar food at stellar prices does not create repeat business. You were entitled to a better meal for your money 🙂


Meg from FruWiki September 4, 2009 at 11:20 am

Overeating is DEFINITELY food waste — and very costly food waste since you pay for it later in higher medical bills and new clothes!

My mom grew up a member of the clean your plate club and now is having to learn about proper serving sizes. I know it’s hard for her because it’s hard enough for me, and I wasn’t quite as indoctrinated into the club as she was.

I try to think about food waste not in terms of what is thrown out, but in terms of what should never have been bought in the first place. For example, I’d rather compost some of the fresh food I buy that goes bad before I eat it than eat a lot of processed crap that keeps for months if not years. (And besides, the processed stuff results in a lot more garbage because of packaging, leading to higher garbage fees!)

Of course, we should all enjoy some treats. However, if you’re not truly enjoying your treat, like a dinner out, then isn’t that a waste not only of food but of time and money? You can’t turn back the clock, but at least you can decide that enough is enough — and hopefully get some money back or maybe see if there’s something better on the menu that they can replace it with!


Meg from FruWiki September 4, 2009 at 12:00 pm


There is such a thing as consuming too little! Even dieters are generally told to not eat less than 1500 calories because it will slow your metabolism and actually sabotage your weight loss efforts! Assuming you really are just consuming 1000 calories, you might want to up it to AT LEAST 1500 calories (of nutritious food, of course). I know it seems counterproductive, but it’s a lot healthier and will help speed up your metabolism.


Karen September 4, 2009 at 6:29 pm

I always remember this amazing thing my grandma said about eating more than you needed being just as wasteful as throwing good food away. Her wisdom/attitude was so striking to me because she had gone through the Depression and her family experienced hunger and many hard times, including her scraping together food to feed her kids while she herself only ate fruit from the fig tree in the backyard–which she was very thankful for! So yeah, I’m with her–waste is waste.

I also have stopped bringing food home from dining out unless it was excellent, and unless I know someone in my household will actually make a meal of it later. What’s the point of all those awful styrofoam containers otherwise? Not to mention the energy waste to refrigerate food in styrofoam that’s going to thrown away in a few days!


Kristin @ klingtocash September 4, 2009 at 8:15 pm

I would have said something about the food also. If I don’t eat the food at a restaurant because it’s not up to par, I don’t pay for it. I’ll pay for my drinks and anything we did eat and I won’t penalize the waitress for the bad food unless it’s something clearly obvious like burnt food that she still served. When I waited tables, there were times when the food was not up to par. I would request it to be remade and explain the situation to my table. I generally made very good money on those tables.


Judith in Ky September 4, 2009 at 9:00 pm

Of course overeating is not good, nor is wasting food. I am lucky. Most of the stray cats and racoons in my neighborhood seem to appreciate the scraps I do bring home to them. I put the left overs far out from the house so as “not’ to attract scavengers and feed the little animals


susan mbugua September 5, 2009 at 3:12 am

My mother always said food goes to waste or to waist! So do not over eat. At the same time we were told to finish what we had on our plates at home because we were allowed to serve ourselves and we were being trained not to put more on our plates than we intend to eat. Why no ask the restaurant for smaller amounts in the first place.


Jennifer September 5, 2009 at 6:26 am

“Just because you ate it, doesn’t mean it wasn’t wasted” is a phrase that has always stuck with me. One way that I try to avoid the “clean plate club” problem is to put food on the table in serving dishes and let everyone take as much as they feel they will eat. This is instead of plating the food up for my kids in the kitchen.


BarbM September 5, 2009 at 6:33 am

If the food is OK, I pack it up and use it at home,even if it winds up in Trash night stew(which is a lot more paletable than it sounds.) Overeating is a form of food hoarding.The food could be going to help meet someone elses nutrition requirements.


Meg from FruWiki September 5, 2009 at 7:10 am

This all reminded me of a very dear friend/roommate I had who, after eating out somewhere, would drive downtown to where the homeless tend to gather. She’d give them her leftovers and she said they were always very appreciative (which I’m sure they were).


Jacquelyn September 5, 2009 at 10:46 am

This is where it would be nice to have pigs at home. Bring home those nasty leftovers and turn them into great bacon for later! 😉


WilliamB September 5, 2009 at 2:34 pm

“I did not make a fuss about the food because I was simply not in the mood. I was having a great couple days, just me and my sons, and knew that if I were to complain about the food that I would be unable to not go into a cranky mood.”

Makes perfect sense to me.

I have given food to beggars. Some appeciate it (especially the guy to whom I gave an entire Thanksgiving turkey – which came *in addition* to the Thanksgiving buffet at the restaurant). Others not. And have told me so, at great length and quite colorfully. I still give food but I never know which reaction I’ll get.


terilyn September 5, 2009 at 8:02 pm

This is such an interesting topic. At our home there is no such thing as food waste because any leftovers can and do go to pets or the chickens.
Overeating doesn’t bother me. It isn’t waste. The body doesn’t waste, it stores. Now gluttony does have a downside in health issues, but it is not waste, persay. You simply store food “on the hoof” in the form of fat for later use.
If food waste bothers you, I would suggest you find a way to recycle. Perhaps you have a neighbor who has some hens or a dog who would clean up your leftovers.


Meg from FruWiki September 5, 2009 at 8:24 pm


“The body doesn’t waste, it stores. ”

Storing food as fat is a pretty poor way of storing food in modern times — especially when you can just save the money to buy food later. Whereas money would collect interest and at least some foods keep fairly well, storing food as excess fat is inefficient (your body has to maintain it) and unhealthy, which can cost a lot long-term, particularly if you develop diabetes, heart disease, joint problems, etc. As the child of an obese mother, I’ve seen first hand the costs, financially, psychologically, socially, etc. and it’s not something I’d wish on anyone. It IS a waste of food and money when our excessive food intake leads not to nourishment for our bodies but to the poisoning of them. And, of course, it’s not easy to reverse as the body tries VERY hard to rebuild fat reserves even if you do manage to decrease them (not to mention that the complications of being overweight make it harder to exercise).

I’m not saying that we should all be rail thin or give up eating for the sake of pleasure — far from it. I’m all for healthy weights and the occasional treats (as well as plenty of delicious but nutritious food). However, I do think that eating much more than we need is wasteful. It is a waste of food, a waste of money, and a waste of all our many resources that go into producing those foods, including the fertility of our soils, the water, the petroleum that powers our agriculture, and yes, the chemicals we use as pesticides and herbicides (with all the damage they cause).

That is why most of us should at least try to consume less while consuming more nutritious foods in order to get the most bang for our buck — and our bodies.


Teralyn April 18, 2017 at 5:28 pm

It was the chef who wasted the food by making it inedible, not you. Part of being responsible with our resources is to use them wisely; if you make food that is disgusting, you’ve abused your resources, just like the chef abused the resources at the restaurant.


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