Pushing the limits of social acceptablilty

I was in a cafe the other day with Matilda, my 3 1/2 year old daughter. There was an old lady sat at the table next to us. She had ordered a roast chicken dinner and had eaten less then half it. Her knife and fork were next to each other, neatly laid out in a way that would imply to anyone in polite society that she had eaten enough. She was sat there with another old lady, talking about their church group and such polite conversations.

See, if I knew her, if she was my friend and I was sat at the table with her, it would have been perfectly acceptable for me to ask to eat her leftovers. She may have even offered them to me – she was clearly a nice old lady. But it is definitely not acceptable to ask a stranger for their leftovers.

However I am a permaculturist. I have adopted sweaters that I have found in the forest, and built an entire shed out of wood that I have taken from skips (I always ask for permission). I am not against eating meat, but I am against current farming practices. They are shocking…..But a chicken that has been killed, cooked, partly eaten, and is about to be thrown in the bin, is just not acceptable. I refrained from yelling at the old lady to stop wasting so much food…..

British people waste 8.3 million tons of food per year. If we stopped wasting so much food, the CO2 impact would be the equivalent of taking 1 in 4 cars off the road. www.lovefoodhatewaste.com

So what would a permaculturist do? Ask a complete stanger for their leftovers. I was wearing a cashmere cardigan (£4 from a charity shop). I looked smart, respectable, and there I was asking if I could have this lady’s leftovers. There was a moment of complete lack of understanding on her face. She really didn’t understand what I was asking…. But then it clicked, and she smiled. “Of course!” she said. “Do you want a nap kin?” I had instantly taken away all the guilt she held for ordering far too much food, she told me. She looked so pleased….

I made sure she didn’t want to take her leftovers home with her. In the USA, a waitress will almost leave a doggy bag on the side of your table, because it is absurd that you should even contemplate eating all the food that they serve you. (They don’t think it’s so absurd in some parts of the States, but still…..) In the UK, a waitress will look bemused at you if you ask to take your leftovers home with you. I have been to dinner with friends who have made me feel awkward for wanting to take my leftovers home with me (and theirs for my wormery). It’s just not British.

My point is that if you put social norms aside for a moment, it is completely ethical and right to finish the unwanted (perfectly edible) leftovers of another person. And once I had found the courage to break through this very British social barrier, I found that the old lady was really pleased.

Germs I hear you yelling? I took clean cutlery. She would have told me if she was sick. I don’t care to be too paranoid.

Of course she could have said no, but I really wouldn’t have lost anything.

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About thehouseofjam

I am a Trustee/Director of the Permaculture Association of Britain, and I make jam with wild food. Lots of it!
This entry was posted in Permaculture, Produce no waste and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Pushing the limits of social acceptablilty

  1. jaggednib says:

    This is amazing! Good for you!

    • Thank you! I think it’s like doing a cartwheel – The first time you do it is quite frightening because you might fall. But once you’ve done it once, you can do it a million times, and you learn that it doesn’t hurt so much when you do fall.

  2. Joey says:

    You are a natural at this! I totally agree people waste far to much food. Maybe you could campaign to get doggy bags part of the restaurant system!?

  3. stickyllama says:

    Well done, I have often thought that the amount of food we waste is atrocious. This is a fantastic blog and I do the same re our chickens and worm farm and compost. Love your writing style too. I found your site through tag surfer and am glad I did. I have a (very) small blog started on self sufficiency and permaculture but I have a lot to learn about blogging but this was great. Thanks. Glad to know that there are people who do think outside the social norms!!!!!!!!!

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