Sunday, December 17, 2006

how to resist free food??

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.

14 comments:

Anonymous said...

I feel your pain. You are very honest. I don't know how you do it, but I think you have it right when you say "The truth shall set you free." You are a brave person.

" 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?"

Yes, seriously, why isn't there? Wouldn't it fall within the real of "evil" to have such waste without doing anything about it? There are probably reasons why it is not as simple as having a van drive around picking up the food, but still, there should be a way.

Anonymous said...

My father was running a hospital and noticed that a huge amount of food was going to waste. Basically, they had to cater for enough food to feed everyone if every bed in the hospital was filled, becuase they couldn't tell when ordering days in advance how many cases would be there. This irritated him.

At the same time, he was made aware by some teachers than a lot of the poorer kids in the town with the hospital were coming to school without having breakfast and couldn't concentrate properly. A large chunk of those kids were of the indigenous population, perhaps 60-70%, the rest various others.

He set up a programme where a free breakfast was provided for the kids with the food that was ordered but wasn't needed by the hospital on the day, everyone was happy, it was popular, teachers reported great results. Most of the work was done by volunteers.

A couple of months later, an activist for the indigenous population came upon this programme and tried to find out where the food came from. Unfortunately, the people involved were all too honest. Eventually he asked the question, 'what was going to happen to the food?', and the answer was 'it would probably be fed to some pigs'.

The activist ran screaming to the Minister for indigenous affairs accusing the hospital of feeding 'pigfood' to indigenous children. Within days, the programme was killed off to avoid the political fallout that had been stirred up.

Just one little example of why people don't try to do what you suggest. And why you should kill activists on sight.

Erica Joy said...

Why does that charity not exist? Lawsuits. How can a charity feed the homeless with leftovers without fear that the food will make someone sick and that someone will sue?

Anonymous said...

In a country where lawsuits are as popular as the US and basically free to pursue if there is any hope of a damages claim that the lawyers can take a cut from, yes. That's a real problem.

biantaishabi said...

HAHA, It is my favorite post of 2006. I will try my best to hold my fire when I walk by these free food the next time.

Ola said...

lack of self control?

you have taken the first step which is admitting that you have a "problem". Then you need to decide how much of a issue this is to you and if you are ready to go through what it takes to stop doing it. I have no idea what it takes...

And since you know the long term effects of the food on your body, it might be in your best interests to do something about it.

I also have a problem with pastries not necessarily with free food although I try my best to moderate it.

Regarding your nationality, I can also understand that as I am from Nigeria and the thought of food going to waste is an issue that touches me but there are some things that you just can't change. And the previous comments have addressed the issue of why there is no such organization that caters to that.

Good luck and keep us posted...

Adam Lasnik said...

I'm surprised it hasn't gotten easier for you over time, Niniane ;).

As you probably know, I've been at Google 8 months. I gained, and have since lost 9 pounds since starting, primarily because my "FREE FOOD!" meter kept going berserk every 2 minutes ;).

But now I see that, yes, that special chocolate cheesecake will be back next month. Yes, we'll have something similar to that kickass pizza again soon. And so I feel less compelled to sample every single dish I walk past.

In fact, I'm getting better at asking myself (and answering myself honestly): "Am I really hungry right now?" If the answer is no, make myself tea or drink water.

That's not to say I don't hugely love and appreciate our Googlefood and our chefs, nor does it address the issue of food waste (which also makes me sad). But at least it addresses a key issue that you and I and lots of others clearly have struggled with: understanding hunger and being disciplined not to eat out of habit ;).

ArC said...

How can a charity feed the homeless with leftovers without fear that the food will make someone sick and that someone will sue?

Waitwaitwait. If that was the case, then how could any company ever give free food to its employees? Clearly, Google leaves food out long enough to possibly spoil (I thought food left out at room temperature is a big no-no in the food service biz) and yet it's still available for people like Niniane to pick up...

Anonymous said...

I thought they go to 2nd harvest? No?

Anonymous said...

Back in the day, Stanford Project on Hunger would collect food and give it to the Palo Alto Urban Ministry. Either of these groups may be able to help you out.

Anonymous said...

I loled at this post.

Anonymous said...

In South Africa we have a program that does just that, called Feedback
though I am not sure if it would work for you guys because I believe they do not accept plated food.

Sadly, No! Research Labs said...

Second Harvest might have a branch nearby.

Term Papers said...

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.