It’s been a joke in my family how I always leave food on my plate. Not a lot. A tablespoonful of rice, two or three peas, a sliver of meat… It’s even true when I drink coffee—there’s always a teaspoonful of liquid left by the time I put my cup in the kitchen sink.
It’s not something I did willfully. Until recently, it was a subconscious thing. Until I thought hard about the WHY. The best answer I could come up with—it’s my way of rebelling against all the silly rules from my childhood. On the dinner table, it was always, “Finish your food and don’t be wasteful; there are a lot of hungry people in the world.” The rule is the same with drinking water. “Finish what’s in your glass because there are places in the world where they don’t clean have water to drink.”
I was a child. Until you get to that age when you realize that not all grownups are wise, you don’t question rules like that. You follow. But like any child, I grew up. But unlike the grownups who never questioned the logic of the silly rules they imposed, I learned that whether or not I leave food on my plate or water in my glass won’t help feed poor people nor give them better access to clean water.
Think about it. There’s food on your plate that either goes into your mouth or into the trash (or if you have pets and it’s your practice to feed them leftovers, then, that’s where your unfinished food goes). Your leftovers won’t magically fly elsewhere where the less fortunate can enjoy them. In other words, there is no connection between my leftovers and whether or not people in remote places in, say, Africa will have more, or less, to eat. Same thing with drinking water.
The truth is, poor people have less to eat either because their means of food production is severely limited, either because:
(a) They have been deprived of the ownership or control of the land that produces their food; or
(b) Their purchasing power is so low in relation to food prices.
I have never forcibly (nor through deceit) taken anyone’s means of food production. Nor have I ever been in a position to dictate the price of food items.
Now, why am I (and every other child and adult who’s been subjected to the same food guilt trip) being made to feel bad about something I did not do nor have any control over? There are only two institutions with the power to take land and dictate food prices: government and business. And unless you’ve been living under a rock from the day you were born, you should at least have an inkling that government is controlled by powerful business interests. In some cases, government and business are one, as when powerful landowners become the lawmakers themselves. If that sounds alien, consider who the people in the Senate and House of Representatives are, what businesses they own, how many hectares of agricultural and industrial lands are in their names or under their control, etcetera, etcetera.
What about water? Water evaporates from the sea, condenses in the atmosphere and falls as rain. It’s a never ending cycle. It stays underground until someone pumps the water up and treats it to make it safe for human use.
Water is always abundant. Why do some people have meagre access to clean water? Because unless the state owns and operates water distribution, it is a business and only a few control to whom and where it goes. It is NOT water that’s lacking. It’s the distribution that’s screwed. To build and feed factories, to construct skyscrapers and leisure resorts, and to keep them all running, the distribution of water becomes lopsided. And government allows it. And whether or not I leave my glass of water half full or if I keep the faucet on while I brush my teeth won’t change any of that.
So, maybe… just maybe… that tablespoon of rice I habitually leave on my plate and that scant teaspoonful of coffee at the bottom of my cup are my way of saying, “Screw you all who try to make me feel guilty for the lack of food and water of millions of people in the world.” Too bad that I didn’t understand all that as a child.
So, my little rebellion achieves what, exactly? To you and the rest of the world, maybe, nothing. But to me, it means everything because it puts me in control of my emotional and mental wellbeing. I’m not going to feel bad about things that aren’t my fault.
The end? Not really. Even if I’ve figured out why it’s stupid to feel guilty about leftover food and unfinished drinking water, the world has come up with more things to make me feel guilty about. These days, it’s about the chickens, the pigs and the cows that are being raised under horrid conditions before they are slaughtered, dressed, cut, packed and arranged neatly on the shelves of the freezers in the grocery. These days, it’s about eating the wild salmon that has fought long and hard to swim against the current to lay its eggs. These days, it’s about feeding my family with bangus or tilapia that spent their entire lives trashing in the dirty ponds and allegedly feeding on dead animal carcass.
What the fuck. It is not my fault that corporate greed has made such practices the norm. So why the hell does society tell me that I’m being a bad human being by buying meat from cows that hadn’t lived their lives being brushed lovingly and sang to and whatever else they do with their cattle in Kobe.
And, for fuck’s sakes, I live in a country where we have learned to elevate to gourmet levels food that have been rejected by the First World countries we sell our fish and meat to. We have learned to appreciate fish heads and offals of mammals because those are what we have access to and can afford.
None of that, of course, covers situations when people literally take the food off the mouth of another. Like when, say, ten people sit down to dinner and Juan or Juana takes half of the rice, half of the meat and half of everything else, leaves the other half for the nine other diners, then Juan or Juana ends up with leftovers galore on his or her plate. That is an entirely different story. I’ve known a lot of Juans and Juanas in my life, and I wanted to murder them all.