When I was growing up, we didn’t have much money, but we were always blessed with food on the table, a place to sleep, and a roof over us. I have no complaints — nor even a sense — my life lacked luxury. It never lacked what was needed, and it never lacked love. That’s a pretty golden childhood.
But money was tight, and our ethic was “waste not, want not!” Two of the more grievous sins in our family were waste and inequitable distribution (everyone got a fair share of what there was). I heard a lot about those “starving children in India.”
Which is why it annoys me when characters waste food.
It’s a common trope, often used in one of two ways:
“Lost My Appetite!” — something has so revolted, disgusted, upset, or distressed, this character they just can’t eat their food.
Wasting food symbolizes how affected the character is by this.
Which is certainly legit — I’ve experienced not wanting to eat myself and I’m sure we all have. What annoys me (besides the waste) is when the rejection is after the fact. A character orders their favorite sandwich from their favorite place… and then just throws it away.
It’s the waste that gets me. Don’t order it in the first place!
Why not make an effort to save it for later or give it to someone? (Occasionally the character does hand the food to someone else, in which case I’m fine with it.)
The casual willingness to waste good food is a black mark for a character in my book.
“I Don’t Have Time to Eat!” — there is so much going on, and the character is so into it, they just don’t have time to eat.
(The closest TVTropes comes is “Forgets to Eat” which isn’t quite the same thing.)
Here it’s about how affected the character is by their own urgency or external deadline.
But again it seems like the character is being a little dumb. There are many ways to eat on the run. I used to do it a lot in my younger days. I still sometimes eat while I’m working. No big deal.
And, again, the problem is ordering the food in the first place. It’s wasteful, and it’s dumb. Two things I’m not big on. (The “too busy” trope usually is expressed as forgetting or ignoring rather than ordering and rejecting, so I don’t see it that often.)
There is another mode that bugs me, too:
“The Food Doesn’t Matter!” — characters order food or drinks and then, for whatever reason, leave without either eating, or in some cases, even receiving what they ordered.
(TVTropes calls this: “They Wasted a Perfectly Good Sandwich”)
This one is sometimes a lack of attention to (or caring about) what the characters are actually doing. The scene just happens to be set in a restaurant or bar, and the part about the food or drinks is just background flow for mood.
You’re not supposed to even notice they didn’t touch their food or drinks.
(In fact, it’s hard to say your lines with your mouth full. If you look carefully, you may notice actors faking drinking. Some scenes, especially commercials, show an actor taking a bite, but the quick edit hides how they spit out that bite. There are also continuity issues involved when characters consume food, drink, or whatever.)
All of this is the sort of thing I mean when I talk about how modern visual storytelling has become iconic.
By “icon” I mean a trope that is visual, narrative, and, in some sense, irreducible. Call it a visual storytelling atom (or maybe molecule is better).
[There’s a whole fuzzy space involving icons, tropes, motifs, genres, modes, and whatnot. Many of these things blend into each other or amount to the same thing.]
That said, it would be interesting to look closely at how plays have been staged over the eons, as well as at the early days of TV and film. It might well be that visual storytelling has always been so iconic.
I suspect not, although that may be my own bias speaking. I think, just in the time I’ve been watching closely (40+ years since I was a theatre and film student), I’ve seen a shift. It would be an interesting thing to quantify and study.
The main point is, due to my upbringing, it really grates on me when fictional characters waste fictional food.
Yeah, I know, but the whole point of willing suspension of disbelief is that you (pretend to) take it as real.
And, to the extent our media reflects us, it shows our willingness to waste.
(Our disposable culture may be a factor in our collapse. It needlessly accelerates resource use in the name of price and convenience.)
Stay thrifty, my friends!