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Cao '13: Should we eat that much?

My roommate, who works the closing shift at the Friedman Cafe, called me up Friday night and said, "Would you mind coming to (the Sciences Library) and taking a couple of the leftover muffins for us? It's so sad to see them going into the dumpster. I feel like a rampage killer." I went there and took four muffins home, gave one to the lady at reception and threw the rest of them away. The total death toll was 54 bagels and 28 muffins. My roommate said later that closing cashiers have been throwing away around 50 bagels every single night of the week. What's even worse is that, as cashiers, they are not allowed to give them away by Brown Dining Services policy. I used to work as a cashier at Friedman, the Rockefeller Library and Barus & Holley last year, both opening and closing shifts. I told the person who delivered baked goods every morning that we throw away too many of them at the end of the day. After a year, cashiers are still given the same amount of baked goods. It seems that the BuDS officers believe that we should eat a lot more than we do now.

Americans have, indeed, overestimated their ability to consume food. It seems impossible to finish a spicy cashew chicken at the Cheesecake Factory, and I usually share a burrito bowl with a friend at Chipotle for lunch. In Germany, I could not even find a cup as big as the super-sized milkshakes I have seen here — except a beer mug. The deep buckets of chicken and wheel-sized burgers sold in fast food chains look like weapons of mass destruction to me, but every day millions of kids and adults just walk into those restaurants, devour some burgers and walk out with their super-sized bodies. Everything seems perfectly normal. According to visualeconomics.com, an average American purchases almost 2,000 pounds of food per year. Every year, we consume 29 pounds of French fries, 53 gallons of soda — about a gallon per week — 24 pounds of ice cream and 24 pounds of artificial sweetener. That is a diet of 2,700 calories per day. How could that possibly be normal?

Let's admit it: Restaurants and supermarkets have made us believe that we need that much food to survive, so that we consume more. We live in a country where corporate health is favored over human and environmental health. In order to expand food sales, companies lobby government agencies, market to children and advertise junk food as healthy. To get people to buy their products, fast food companies spent $4.2 billion on marketing in 2009, according to a report by Yale's Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity. Their market share has been continuously growing since McDonald's and other restaurants introduced dollar menus and specifically targeted children and low-income families. I'm not saying we should blame these companies for everything. After all, they represent good value for people on a budget and provide children a relatively safe place to hang out. What is really dangerous to our health and the environment is the eating habits we have developed throughout the years under their influence.

What's even worse is that, after years of brainwashing, eating and wasting too much food has almost become part of the American culture. Every time people try to raise money, they bake brownies and cookies. The University provides students with all-you-can-eat meals, as do most American colleges. Student groups and clubs on campus always capitalize "FREE FOOD" on their advertising materials to attract people. Is it not weird that we are not even paying for what we eat? Food is no longer respected: It is so easy to get and so cheap to purchase that we do not even want to spend time on it. People buy without thinking, eat without thinking and throw things away without thinking. I don't think that anyone really wants to waste food — we are just given too many opportunities and sometimes even forced to do so. Nobody judges you when you dump the food you cannot finish into the garbage, because we have all been in the same situation. Sometimes, wasting is no longer just a choice. It has become a must. How sad is that?

Jan Cao '13 is a comparative literature and German studies concentrator from Nanjing, China. She can be reached at jieran_cao@brown.edu.


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