BB #65: Food Wasters

Still half a meal!

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.)


I don’t normally take pictures of my food (this is the third one, ever, the one above is the second), but it was a distant friend’s birthday, and I told her I was going out to dinner and that we’d celebrate her birthday with a margarita. The picture is proof of the proof.

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.


I knew you’d ask, so here it is, the first food pic I ever took. This and the second one are from the same occasion — the Pyramid Brewery Alehouse in Seattle. It was a vacation trip, we were about to go see the Mariners, and I thought I’d celebrate by taking a couple food pics. These are our appetizers: calamari and rosemary-garlic fries. Yummy!

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!

About Wyrd Smythe

The canonical fool on the hill watching the sunset and the rotation of the planet and thinking what he imagines are large thoughts. View all posts by Wyrd Smythe

8 responses to “BB #65: Food Wasters

  • Wyrd Smythe

    I was inspired to write a haiku about my food pics:

    Only three food pics,
    Only a dozen selfies.
    I’m failing the web!

    • Wyrd Smythe

      In case you’re wondering, all the food on those plates got eaten!

    • Wyrd Smythe

      BTW: That first picture up top, that’s a salmon burger, and it was a mistake. Not because it was bad — it was delicious. But upon reflection, turned into chopped meat for a burger is not the way to treat salmon.

      I mean, for crying out loud, I’m in Seattle, and part of the whole deal is grilled fresh halibut and salmon, so I don’t know what I was thinking. I guess the idea of a “burger” before a baseball game appealed to me.

  • Wyrd Smythe

    p.s. 13 more posts to go this month to reach 899.

  • rung2diotimasladder

    I totally get it. I have a similar thing about throwing out containers, packaging…

    As for food, my mom would wrap up even just one bite of food and stick it in the fridge. The problem was she’d forget about it and there’d be little bits of seran-wrapped leftover whatnots everywhere. In any case, she’d experienced war, a pretty good excuse.

    As for me, I usually do a pretty good job of cleaning my plate, and Geordie’s here to make sure not a crumb goes unconsumed.

    • Wyrd Smythe

      You mean like those useful free tuperware tubs you get when you buy cold cuts, and which can reused and reused until they get worn out enough to finally toss? Yeah, I have that, too. 😀 The whole ethic was “use every part of the animal” so something as useful as a container? Damn right you don’t throw those away! I even save the nicer shopping plastic bags… those heavy-duty ones with handles or drawstrings.

      I can say I’ve never saved a lone bite of food (people who’ve been through a war definitely get a bit of a pass on any lingering behaviors), but if it looks like enough for a useful snack or meal later, sure. Gotta be at least as big as a pizza slice, though.

      Heh, when I had Sam I practically didn’t need a dishwasher. At least not from how the plates looked. 😀 She really loved licking clean my “empty” I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter tubs. (Which are too small to save; those do get tossed immediately once the dog has cleaned them spotless.) She could tell, I think, from the scraping sounds when she was about to get one.

      I always wondered if she was smart enough to understand the process enough to be thinking, “Hey, don’t scrape it too clean, okay? Save some for me!”

      • rung2diotimasladder

        I bet she is as smart enough to understand that. Geordie isn’t the smartest in the whole world, but when it comes to food, you better believe he’s keeping track. When I get towards the end of, say, a bowl of ice cream, he’ll stare very intently at it and squirm every time I take a bite. It’s like he’s saying, “Leave some for me!”

      • Wyrd Smythe

        That’s pretty much how Sam acted with any food container she expected (from past history) to get to lick clean.

        Dogs are pretty dumb, but they are smart in certain ways. Surprisingly so, sometimes. I was always pretty convinced Sam understood, and Geordie seems another confirming data point.

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