I've grown to think that as a waitress my responsibility is to make sure customers get the best and purest products possible. This means that my responsibility is to control quality: to make sure food is as fresh as possible, that cakes are moist and fluffy, that bread is straight from the oven, that vegatables are recently cut, that soda is sparkly, that juice is freshly squeezed, that toilets smell like a flowery meadow; that everything is tip-top over-the-top perfect. The expectations for quality vary a little bit among individuals, but only very little: both rich and poor expect the very best as they're paying extra for “service”.
What this system of set standards and justified demands ignores is the amount of food and resources that goes to waste, literally. I have thus far concluded two major contributors from the waitress-POV for the tons and tons of edible food that get thrown away.
1) The portions are huge. I worked for three years in a big restaurant that was known for its big, so called “men's portions” of food. The image of the place was based on everything “big” and masculine, and the food was also junkfood-y, hamburgers and steaks and all sorts of tex mex stuff. As I worked there I started to take notice of the amount of food people left on their plates. It's not just the people - the portions were huge and not even all the “big masculine men” could finish them - but the restaurant industry itself that lives by the traditions and standards of restaurant culture.
It's thought that one should not leave a restaurant with an empty stomach. It is a sign of a bad restaurant that cannot feed it's customers well enough – “maybe the portions are too small because they're greedy!” “Perhaps they're just cheating us, maybe this amount of meat would have actually cost me five euros but now I'm paying 20.” Big portions are a sign of a restaurant that wants to leave all its customers happy, and it's also seen as a sign of “honesty”, as you get a lot of food with less money. Now, this attitude leads to portions being halfway finished almost every time: as I worked the dishes almost every burger came back as half a burger. I threw out kilos and kilos of bread, meat, sauce, potato, vegetables and cheese within a few hours. When people are too stuck with their beliefs to actually know their body and how much it consumes, to know when to share a big portion with another, or too afraid of judgement to take the leftovers home; when restaurant owners are too busy pleasing everyone and not taking a stand, we are left with our share of the food crisis.
2) Hygienic hysteria. If, as a waitress, I drop a sugar cube onto the table I work upon, I'm expected to throw it away even though I keep the working surface clean and the sugar is just as it was before I dropped it. The product has been soiled; it's not as clean as it was within the package. If I transfer a cupcake from the freezer to the display fridge using only pincers, it's a no-no. The air it travels through might contaminate it, and I'm supposed to put the cupcake into a clean unused box for the 5 metres it travels. If a day is quiet and we're left with extra salad, I'm not allowed to use the salad tomorrow even though it's still good, fresh and healthy – because it's not as fresh as possible. Common sense flies out of the window with these standards, even though people rarely complain unless they've got something to compare to. “Why's her piece of cake better than mine?” “Is there something wrong with yours, ma'am?” “No, but hers is better!” Where I work now people are pretty satisfied with what they get, even though the quality is nothing fancy, but in a finer restaurant people find all sorts of little things to complain about even though the quality really is top-notch.
If I followed that logic of offering the very best possible, the amount of food I ought to throw away every day would be insane: about 16 pieces of cake (90 euros loss, more than my one-day pay), a few kilos of vegetable and fish, many many kilos of pasta, 5 litres of soup, a few breads and pastries, a bunch of cupcakes. Every day of every week. I did not count the stuff I have found important to throw away daily anyway, such as sandwiches, used milk, opened juice cartons, leftover food, vegetables gone bad, baked goods gone dry. I throw bad stuff away constantly, and throwing away stuff that is still fine really stands out and bothers me.
Today I faced a situation where I had to choose between two conflicting views: that of the set standards of quality, and that of the entire worldful of famine where resources are waisted again and again. I cannot tell publicly exactly what happened as it might bring trouble to me and my employer, but I can tell you that I had to think fast and I chose not to throw away an item that by the standards should have been. It would have been a major loss both financially and considering the resources.
I have been balancing between the two views, making compromises and choosing sometimes one, sometimes the other. For me it is very important to not get anyone sick – it is my responsibility as the one who serves the food to make sure what people put inside their bodies is not poisonous or infected or possibly allergetic. That I take care of by for example keeping utensils and dishes always as clean as possible. But I also realize that the standards are an overreaction: the human body can fight off a whole lot of bacteria, but the word “bacteria” itself is too much for some to handle. Everything and aything that has “bacteria” is bad, which shows just how little people know about food and their bodies, as every single thing is actually swarming with different kinds of bacteria, and food itself is basically bacteria. The standards are also an image of luxury people like to live in: I can afford the best = I'm ok, I'm enough, I'm good.
I will no longer compromise. I know cakes won't save the world from famine, but this is where I am now and this is the place for me to take action at this moment, no matter the scale. Actions will accumulate; attitudes will be affected. I will take care nothing goes to waste in vain, wherever I happen to work.
I forgive myself that I have accepted and allowed myself to fear living according to my principles as I have been afraid of being judged by an authority (boss, co-workers, customers, officials).
I forgive myself that I have accepted and allowed myself to fear being judged according to actions I know to be right, as I have been afraid I will then be defined as a “bad employee” and a “bad person” and might even lose my job.
I forgive myself that I have accepted and allowed myself to fear the negative reactions an authority might bring forth according to my actions because I would have then taken their judgement personally, as a true commentary of myself and defined myself accordingly, instead of seeing the reactions as what they really are. I now see and realize the reason I have been so afraid is the fact that I have not been able to stand within myself and my actions as a stable being right now and here, as I have projected myself into possible future events and worst case scenarios.
I forgive myself that I have accepted and allowed myself to take the reactions of an authority personally and fall back into my mind structures even though my actions have come from a stable point.
I forgive myself that I have accepted and allowed myself to act according to the phrase “customer is always right”, even though I never believed it, as I faced pressure from an authority and gave in, not being able to stand my ground and to stand up.
I forgive myself that I have accepted and allowed myself to not stand within myself and thus live dishonesty when and as I have given into pressure and worn characters instead of being myself within and as breath, and thus accepted and allowed the conseqences of such self-compromising to accumulate and add to the mess I was and am now sorting out.
I forgive myself that I have accepted and allowed myself to not realize that if I never bring my ideals into action, those ideals will never come about in the physical reality; I forgive myself that I have accepted and allowed myself to believe that good thoughts and intentions are enough and that someone else can act for me as I am too afraid to / I cannot take the risk, not realizing that I am the one to act, the only one I can move as actions within this reality.
I forgive myself that I have accepted and allowed myself to blame others for the problems caused by the restaurant industry – be it customers, co-workers, employers, restaurant managers – not realizing the ways I have been contributing to the problem supporting its existence, and the fact that we are all responsible for what the world has become as the descendants of those that built this world since we are just like them in not having stopped the cycle humanity has lived according to throughout its existence.
I forgive myself that I have accepted and allowed myself to fear others will perceive my actions a sloppiness, laziness, greediness and “not caring”, when in fact, as considering the big picture, to act any differently would be the real act of ignorance.
I commit myself to investigate the ways waste is created within the place I work at and reduce it through my own choices as well as discussion and negotiation with my co-workers and employers.
I commit myself to support and assist myself to face people as equals, as people instead of authorities, to be able to make the issue known and understood, and to no longer compromise myself.
I commit myself, when and as I am faced with a choice of throwing away or preserving, to stop and slow myself down through breathing to examine all possible choices as to what can be done with the food/product to not let it go to waste (selling, eating it myself, offering it to a co-worker, selling for a customer with half-price, giving it to a friend, giving it to someone hungry, giving it as a gift, bringing it to a party, etc).
I commit myself to not stand by and watch others create waste in vain. When and as I notice another being throwing away something that still has value, I will support and assist myself to stop, breathe and speak up, not through blame but as facts and not accepting any bullshit, because even if whatever they threw away that time is already damaged, me speaking up might bring forth change within the person and change their actions in the future.
I commit myself to carry my responsibility of what we have accepted and allowed the world to become by taking the action that is required right here and now, at the place and situation I'm living in at the moment, realizing that change is not required only in the worst of war zones but everywhere, no matter the scale.