I have a problem. It is a problem with free food. If I see a buffet table laden with free food, I will eat that food. This is guaranteed.
It is a problem because free food often encompasses tables of donuts, cakes, brownies. It surely causes untold damage to my body to eat 4 slices of cheesecake just because they're free. But my Chinese-immigrant self cannot stand the thought that this food is going into the dumpster in two hours if no one eats it.
Once, last year, I ducked into Google's main cafeteria ten minutes after closing time. The servers upended metal food trays into trash buckets, sloshing fettucini and asparagus into the black garbage bags. Next to the grill, the three-foot-tall trashcan held a heap of discarded food, topped with slabs of grilled Alaskan salmon. I hovered there for twenty seconds fighting the urge to reach in and grab the salmon. It was damn fine salmon going to waste!
There is also an element of "getting a good deal". We all know some women who cannot walk past a sign reading "50% Off, Sale Ends Today" without being gravitationally yanked to the display. If it's a sale for brown boots, she will try on the boots even though she finds both the color and the texture repulsive. Free food is the same Achilles heel for me. If the food costs even a dollar, the spell is broken.
Regularly at work, while walking to the cafeteria to eat the free food, I pass by platters of finger sandwiches left over from a catered meeting. I will stop and eat those sandwiches, because they are higher on the "free food" scale than the free food I was already on my way to eat.
If only there was an organization that drove around Silicon Valley collecting leftover food and giving it to the homeless. My incentive would then be to avoid eating the food, because I would be taking it out of the mouths of the needy. Why isn't there such a charity? Why are the gourmet cheese platters and lemon bars dumped in a landfill instead of driven to a battered women's shelter?
In 1997, a bunch of Caltech friends and I walked through a Microsoft building on our way to a Mexican restaurant. We passed a conference room with trays of leftover chinese food. I immediately diverted into the room.
"No!" said Dan. "Who knows how long that food has been there?"
I did not answer as my zombie self picked up a paper plate.
"You should not eat this food. You should come to dinner with us. It's for the social experience, not just the food."
I started loading fried rice and limp broccoli onto my plate.
"Does the food even taste good?"
I took a bite. It was cold and oily. "It's pretty bad," I said, as I continued the transportation of fork to mouth, fork to mouth.
"Fine, suit yourself," said Dan. He and the others walked away, leaving me alone in the conference room with my egg rolls and congealed sweet-and-sour sauce.