What? Throw food away?

Philip J. Goscienski, M.D.

October 2006

"Waste not, want not." My mother's favorite expression was rooted in the Great Depression and it became the mantra of countless families that could never have imagined the superabundance of food that is available to almost all American families today. Long before the arrival of Tupperware and aluminum foil they knew how to save leftovers. Every morsel mattered.

It never occurred to our grandparents to toss perfectly good food away but it's time we learned to do just that. Overeating is killing us.

Do I toss away perfectly good food? Yes! When a restaurant portion is larger than my hunger I have two choices: take it home or take it away. If the meal was priced fairly and it has satisfied my appetite I have gotten my money's worth. The take-home box is a bonus but you need to divide the entrée into two parts before you start. Otherwise you might end up eating the whole thing, just like the guy in the TV commercial.

Food represents only a small portion of the amount charged on the menu. That's why restaurants can afford to offer huge portions without going broke. Yet somewhere deep in our subconscious mind is the fear of famine, hard-wired for thousands of generations. Four or five generations of affluence are not enough to dilute that primeval urge to get food while you can because there may be none tomorrow.

Estimates by nutrition experts vary widely but all agree that the average American takes in a lot more calories than his or her parents and grandparents did. Sugar consumption alone has more than tripled since the early 20th century. That's probably the first food that you can throw away without feeling guilty, especially since it's one of the cheapest.

If it will make you feel less guilty about pushing away half of your next dessert, remember that it has the least nutrition of any part of your meal. You won't find many vitamins in pastries, even in apple pie. OK, so blueberry pie might have some decent antioxidants but they are probably canceled out by the trans fats in the crust.

Ever since my days as a bus-boy in college I've noticed something about baked potatoes. What is headed for the trash or the garbage disposal is usually the skin — with much of the protein, vitamins, fiber and minerals that we have paid for. The inside of a baked potato is mostly starch to which we have added butter, cheese or sour cream.

My mother — and yours, I'll bet — reminded me of the starving children in China when my eating slowed down near the end of the meal. She'd have to find another example today. Obesity has tripled in China in less than 2 decades of semi-capitalism.

It's OK to throw away Girl Scout cookies. After all, what matters is that you have made a donation to a worthy organization. If dumping them really bothers you, just eat a couple and toss the rest. That's what I did this year.

Philip J. Goscienski, M.D. is the author of Health Secrets of the Stone Age, Better Life Publishers 2005. Contact him at drphil@stoneagedoc.com.