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Waste Not: Clean Your Plate!

No sooner had I posted on wasting food, including both this NY Times article and a reference to the admonition parents often give about starving children somewhere, than I found this interview with Marion Nestle from Eating Liberally on the exact same thing. Weird huh?

I filed it under the heading of “let’s blame the world food crisis on wasteful Americans.” I don’t buy it. Americans have been wasting food for years. We can afford to. If we couldn’t, we wouldn’t…Once again, the blame goes on personal responsibility, not policy. The world food crisis is your fault. If you personally didn’t waste so much, children in Haiti and Africa wouldn’t go hungry? Wouldn’t that be nice? Of course we should all be careful not to waste so much, and now that food prices are going through the roof, my guess is that we won’t.

She then gives a laundry list of reasons for the food crisis with waste at the bottom of the list. It’s a good list, but I’m not sure Dr. Nestle answered the original question…

Moms have been chiding their kids to clean their plates for decades on behalf of starving children in ________(insert deprived region of your choice). And, for decades, kids have wondered what eating those last bites of brussels sprouts could possibly have to do with some poor malnourished kid in Kenya. Is there a connection between America’s overloaded plates and empty bowls elsewhere in the world?

Now, I agree with what she said about blaming individuals and ignoring policy. BUT it seems obvious to me that there absolutely is a connection between our plates and the economic lives of people around the world.

It does raise an interesting parenting issue that might provoke some discussion. How do you deal with wasted food at meals? The starving children tactic has its pros and cons. Pro: It addresses the fact that what we do with food affects others and is an issue of justice. Con: It may encourage unhealthy eating based on guilty feelings and lead to an unhealthy relationship with food.

I’m kind if up in the air on this one. We don’t (yet) make our 2 year-old clean his plate through guilt or coercion, but we do use incentives to get him to eat more and eat things he doesn’t like. Invariably there is food left on the plate that gets scraped into the trash. Composting would solve that (Post coming soon on that).

So, what do you think about the starving children method? Is it true and does it work? And what do you do to encourage less waste, healthy relationship with food and a better understanding of food issues with your kids?

1 comment on “Waste Not: Clean Your Plate!

  1. Yeah, I go back and forth on this one.

    There’s the German/Texas-Barr-family part of me that appreciates (obsesses) about efficiency, especially as it relates to stewardship of material resources. In the name of simplicity, and mixing in some good ole’ Christian righteous/judgmental guilt, I try–and implore Kathleen as well–to avoid wasting food.

    On the other hand, there’s something about abundance and lavishness that stops me in my tracks when I read Jesus’ encounters with people (whether rich or poor, marginalized or privileged). I know I go too far. How far too far…I’m not sure. Like the Pharisees and other Jews that the gospel writers ridicule time and time again, I’m too concerned about the minor points of the law to live with mercy and compassion.

    Maybe what I need to do is separate out the value of good stewardship from the guilt that no doubt (knowing my family of origin) instilled it in me. Which means not playing the starving children card and others like it….


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