Waste Management

Hungry? How about the PB&J (you know, peanut butter and…) at one particular restaurant in Chicago that serves this classic as such: a peanut butter smeared grape enveloped by toasted  brioche, borne to your table on a wire contraption? This eatery also offers hearts of palm, presented on five tiny ceramic pedestals, each piece wrapped around a filling of prune with coffee syrup, truffled pumpernickel puree, pureed fava beans, roasted bulgur with garlic. Or, a mix of oyster cream, osetra caviar, lychee “cheeks” and chervil. All of this concoction is known–in some circles– as “caviar and pearls”. 

Is your mouth watering yet?

If not, then let me invoke the restaurant’s “Hot Potato/Cold Potato” offering: a tiny ball of truffle-topped hot potato, suspended, along with cubes of butter and Parmesan, over lightly chilled soup in a tiny wax saucer. As the guest, one would remove the pin that secures the suspended potato, letting it fall into the soup, then tilt the entire thing into your mouth. One slurp and finito! Or…an aromatic dish of ham, peas, and yuba, brought to table on a large linen pillow filled with lavender-infused air. This culinary contraption is arranged so that the weight of the plate forces the fragrant air toward the diner.

Hey anyone can get a plate of pasta with broccoli at some hoity toity Italiano destination for $23. But at the above not-named restaurant, one must commit to one or another multi course menu that starts at $225 and tops off at $285. Drinks would be an additional cost. But no problem, one would presume, because ipso facto, anyone who eats at this place must be able to afford it. Slurp and sniff dishes! How many courses must it take to actually fill up one’s gut, though? The key word in the above descriptions, you many have noted, is “tiny”.  So maybe there are a couple dozen mirco-dishes for $285.  So, if a couple dives into this tricked-up haute cuisine, and consumes every last molecule of morsels, pinned or hanging from wires, and given that puff of lavender-infused oxygen, and who knows what other “less is (supposedly) more” presentations, and washes it all down with a bottle of bubbly or a red or white,  the tab must hit at least $650-700. Plus a 20% tip! Who are these people? And there are evidently enough of them to make this restaurant a raving success and considered one of the best such high-end dining destinations in the country.

Is there possibly a moral element to this reality? As in, one meal, even without any drinks, costing $285 plus a tip? I think so. I’m in the education business, as a classroom instructor. I could save up (for several months) in order to–just once– indulge such a gustatory outing. But I have zero interest in eating at such pretentious places, even if I wasn’t a teacher–but rather, say maybe CEO of Acme Widget, making the big moolah. It simply sounds absurd on its surface. One meal for $285. A couple (a few?) hours to complete the courses. Then, in the morning, some of it is flushed down the commode. As waste. Hmm. There’s a metaphor there, in spite of the literal, natural means of our bodily waste-removal process. Taste and waste. No matter what we put down our throats. At whatever cost.

Another kind of eating  event that seems to me to be a waste–not of money, but of food–are the competitive eating contests. I had the incidental displeasure of stopping in a craft beer bar (with bar food menu) and while taking my first slurp of my IPA, looked up to have one of the large TV monitors tuned to the annual Nathan’s Coney Island Hot Dog Eating event. I had only read about these competitive food eating  spectacles, but now I was looking at the live event. Admittedly, it was akin to slowing down on the roadway wanting to see the carnage of whatever accident was up ahead, maybe on the other side of the road. It’s called gaper’s block in the traffic reports. Well, gaped I indeed did, as about a dozen or more people, mostly young men, upon hearing the starting whistle, proceeded to not eat as much as JAM hot dog and bun into their mouths, one at a time, but as fast as they could do so.  The winner ate–are you ready for this?–74 hot dogs in–are you ready for this?–ten minutes!

I had to stop watching, after a few minutes, because it made me feel disgusted about the waste of–yes–so many hot dogs. These hot dogs (a bit of Americana, for sure, but not exactly healthy eating no matter the time or place) all 74 of em consumed by the winner and likely at least another 300 by the others, in total could feed some of the starving, both here and abroad. Yeah, for some a hot dog would be a virtual feast! Better than eating a rat. Plus, no wires or pins needed. No puffs of lavender-scented air required to goose (pardon the pun) the biological need to fuel one’s body. Life on Maslow’s main pyramid floor.

But we live in the USA, the most wasteful country on earth, food-wise. The USDA estimates that up to 40% of our food supply goes to waste. No, not as in the waste excreted from our bodies, be it a humble hot dog or a haute, huffy, high wire hanging potato. 

Our waste of edible food is approximately 133 billion pounds and 161 billion dollars worth. Per year.

What’s that saying? Waste not want not? 

There’s another saying, a Chinese proverb: may you be born into interesting times. I’m an old school Boomer. I have seen a lot, directly and indirectly, that could be called “interesting”. Reading restaurant reviews such as was useful in the above described, invokes the absurd heights to which super pricey, very formally comported, high-end restaurants will go to to be…what?…more imaginative?…in the ways the human body can “re-fuel” itself. This is utter nonsense in my world. A waste of money, but hey, it’s still (I think) a free country. And  to witness the grotesque Coney Island contest of slobbering speed eaters is part of our way of life in the land of the brave and home of the blah blah blah blah blah…

So, what’s for dinner tonight? What’s your budget? Go for it. Whatever you’re willing to pay, just remember, part of it will be flushed away soon enough. There’s much more important judgments needed in our now whacked-out land-O-plenty than the morality of a single meal, not to mention by what means that bit of “fuel” on the end of your fork got there, and its actual beneficial, nutritional value inherent in your choice. Eat to live. Live to eat?

Bon appetit!


About jharrin4

mass communication/speech instructor at College of DuPage and Triton College in suburban Chicago. Army veteran of the Viet Nam era.
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