Thanksgiving has come and gone, but plates of leftover turkey and pumpkin pie still linger in the fridge, awaiting their trip to the trash. So it should be no surprise that during the holiday season, food waste piles up in the background.
Some restaurants take food waste very seriously and have implemented a policy where diners at all-you-can-eat buffets are charged for uneaten food. Though some criticize these restaurants, these businesses show a legitimate concern for the environment.
Food waste has become a major problem in the United States. According to the Los Angeles Times, almost 40 percent of the nation’s food supply gets thrown out annually. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency documented that in 2011, more than 36 million tons of food waste reached landfills, taking up 21 percent of the nation’s municipal solid waste.
Moreover, roughly one-third of all food produced for human consumption is lost or wasted each year, according to Worldwatch Institute. Consumers in countries such as the United States waste 222 million tons of food, an equivalent to the food produced in all of sub-Saharan Africa, according to Worldwatch. But in the end, world hunger isn’t vanishing anytime soon.
In response to this crisis, restaurants have stepped up, but for those such as Silverlake’s Gobi Mongolian BBQ House who have been charging diners for uneaten food, the feedback from consumers has been negative.
One Yelp reviewer called the new policy a “transparent spin, which is obviously about their profit margin,” suggesting that the business doesn’t want to spend more money on buying food. He went on to write, “If they were sincerely concerned about this they would allow you to take uneaten food to go, so it does not get wasted.”
The policy this reviewer describes, which allegedly prohibits diners from packing leftovers, only applies during all-you-can-eat nights. It’s a reasonable measure considering that no other buffets usually allow their customers to take home their food either. It deters customers from preparing entire bowls of food to pack up, a situation that would cause the business to lose food as well as take an economic blow.
To keep the spirit of all-you-can-eat meals while still discouraging wasting, an extra fee on uneaten food seems reasonable. Besides, whenever people pay for a buffet, the tacit agreement is that it’s only worth the money if the diners can truly eat their hearts out and not waste. Those who cannot eat their fill should be prepared to lose a bit of the fixed fee that they paid.
Critics also need to look at the bigger picture. While all-you-can-eat buffets are obviously not ideal for health, the impact on the environment is much worse. The damage wrecked by these tons of wasted food could be irrevocable, and no amount of buffet fees would be able to reverse it.
Christina Rivera, co-owner of Gobi Mongolian BBQ House, told the Times that the policy was implemented because she “hates to see food go to waste.” Still, it’s safe to say that there’s also an economic interest in it, which shouldn’t be dismissed as negative. Profit motives are actually reasonable considering the state of the economy today, which is riddled with record-high ingredient prices. With a reduction in food waste, there will be lower disposal costs and labor costs, helping both the environment and restaurant pricing for consumers.
The cost of wasted food also affects citizens — not just businesses. According the Times, the annual cost of wasted food around the world, excluding seafood, is $750 billion, which amounts to $40 billion per year for the United States.
This policy should be coupled with other food-saving strategies. For one, chefs should switch up menus daily depending on what they have available so items in refrigerators and pantries will be used up in time. Initiatives such as the newly established U.S. Food Waste Challenge, which launched this April, actively recruits businesses partners such as Chipotle and Momofuku to divert half their food waste from landfills. There’s also the option of recycling, as demonstrated by the businesses that recycle their wasted food. One prime example is Bob Combs, a Nevada pig farmer, who turns leftovers from Vegas casino buffets into slop for his pigs.
The effort it takes to stop the food waste problem takes everyone. Consumers and entrepreneurs alike must unite for this cause to reduce food loss, recover good food and recycle leftovers for other uses such as composting and energy generation. As a nation, we’ve bitten off more than we can chew, so it’s time to fill up our plates appropriately.
And if that means an extra fee as an incentive, so be it.
Valerie Yu is a sophomore majoring in biological sciences and English.
Follow us on Twitter @dailytrojan