You can always find out what a culture's collectively worried about by looking at the fictional works they create. Novels from the Victorian era tend to feature protagonists fighting their way through various hardships to get what they want, a happy ending readers back then hoped to copy. During the low unemployment rates and booming economy of the Clinton Era, movie characters just walked-and-talked about whatever was on their mind, digression-after-digression, being allowed to consider the minutiae of pop culture every chance they had because there were no pressing things to worry about. It makes sense, then, that in our current frenzied and terrifying post-9/11 world, apocalyptic tales are all of the rage.
"World War Z," "This Is The End," "The World's End," and "After Earth," are just a few of the post-apocalyptic visions at your local cineplex this year alone. The end of the world is certainly on our minds. And yet, when we consider such scenarios, it's always big methods of destruction that destroy us: zombies, alien invasions, viral outbreaks, meteor strikes, Raptures, and even global warming. But when our society finally gets booted from the third rock from the Sun, it'll probably come with more of a whimper than a bang. One such possibility: The dangerous implications of our planet's large portion sizes.
The stats themselves are pretty alarming:
- 50 percent of all food that's produced gets thrown out due to a combination of poor refrigeration capabilities, unreliable shipping methods and, most importantly, a simple overproduction of food.
- 90 percent of all water use is tied to the production of food, meaning that one-quarter of our planet's water consumption is used on food that is never eaten.
- Food waste in the U.S. alone exceeds 55 million metric tons, which in turn produces 133 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions.
- Restaurants regularly throw away up to 10% of their food supply, which is ordered in the first place because they simply don't want to run out of items for their customers.
On top of all of that, there's the cost of oil, gas, labor and energy that's wasted on shipping/producing food that's never eaten. Extrapolate those numbers for the foreseeable future and, well, that may be an unnecessary exercise as there may not be a future to foresee.
So, who's to blame? It's really a chicken-and-egg problem, with the consumer and the restaurant being the two possible culprits.
Take this scenario, for instance. There are two nearly identical restaurants across the street from one another (Store A, Store B). Both only have one menu item: A meal consisting of an 8-ounce Angus grass-fed steak, sourced from the same local farm, cooked with the same spices, with a side of mixed vegetables and a baked potato. The meal costs $30.99 at either place. But Store A also throws in an extra dessert, free of charge. While this may initially cut into their profit margins, after one year of business, which do you think will flourish and which will close, Store A or Store B?
Thus is the role of the free market in our planet's over-consumption. Consumers want the most bang for their buck, and restaurants want to survive. The two goals merge to create a situation where food companies are continually trying to pack more and more quantity, at lesser and lesser cost, onto the consumer's plate. And seeing as part of our reptilian brain is still attracted to that "2 > 1" brand of thinking, we eat at the place that gives us the most food. So how do we, as consumers, combat this?
Initiatives like GoHalfsies are good places to start, although they specifically currently only have programs in Austin and New York. Eating less in general is worth mentioning, as is ordering half-portions while dining out instead of full ones in order to promote a mindset of restraint that will hopefully filter to the restaurant's higher-ups. But the most important thing you can do is change your outlook when it comes to "bang for your buck" thinking.
Rather than looking at the answer to that question being found in the realm of quantity, it's important to shift your thinking and look at it from the point-of-view of quality.