Len Robbins


“Eat what’s on your plate. There are starving children in India,” is what I and every other American child from the years 1620-2021 heard in some form or another when we were reticent about finishing our meal.

My usual smart-alecky retort was something akin to, “Well, then, we need to wrap it up and mail it to India.”

If we did, that would be one large package – about the size of Maine.

This from a story in the New York Times: Studies have shown that a quarter to half of all the food produced in the United States goes uneaten.

According to the story, one study, conducted by the University of Arizona over three decades, found that 25% of the food Americans bring into their homes is wasted. A book written by Jonathan Bloom, “American Wasteland: How America Throws Away Nearly Half of Its Food,” points out that our wasteful ways are also expensive. Bloom points out that a family of four spending $175 a week on groceries squanders about $40 each week, which adds up to more than $2,000 a year. Add that to food produced in the U.S. that is left in fields, spoiled in transport or thrown out at the grocery store or restaurant, and that brings you to an estimated 50% mark.

Why do we waste so much food? The story offers up a number of reasons – discarding food due to safety concerns, refrigerator clutter, not being hungry – but misses the primary culprit, in my own personal estimation. That villain is timing. More specifically, the timing of when you go grocery shopping. Even more specifically, going grocery shopping when you’re hungry.

I’ll offer this personal anecdote to make my point.

Shortly after my wife and I married – more than 25 years ago – I went to the grocery store on the verge of starvation (American translation: Not full), and placed a gigantic box of animal crackers in our shopping cart.

“Why are you buying an eight-pound box of animal crackers?” my new wife asked, oblivious that I was hungry – and stupid. “You’ll never eat all that.”

“Oh, yes I will,” was my hungry reply. “I love animal crackers.”

Her eyes rolled.

“And look here,” I added, pointing to the nutritional label. “Animal crackers are good for you, too. Only 120 calories per serving, and 6% of the recommended daily allowance of Riboflavin.”

She surveyed the label for a moment, then offered, “Len, there’s 120 servings of animal crackers in this box.”

I bought it anyway. And ate six servings that night. And five more servings a week later.

And, then, we moved – five years later.

“Hey, Len, when are you going to eat the rest of these animal crackers?,” my wife asked, chuckling, as she cleaned out the cupboard.

“Uh, uh, I’m going to get around to that,” I said.

“I have to be in an animal cracker mood.”

She packed it in the move – solely to prove a point.

Then, five years later, we moved again. And again, we went through the, “When are you going to eat the rest of these animal crackers?” routine.

I threw it away that time – adding to America’s squandered smorgasbord.

But I’m also making an effort to create less excess through one simple action: Before I go grocery shopping now, I always go to an all-you-can-eat buffet first.

And when I get in an animal cracker mood, I buy a small bag, or two.

LEN ROBBINS publishes a syndicated newspaper column in more than 20 newspapers in the South. He and his wife and three children live in Homerville, Georgia (population 2,890), next to the Okefenokee Swamp.

Recommended for you

comments powered by Disqus