Clean your plate

This isn’t about language or linguistics, but this is my blog, not Language Log, so I feel free to stray on occasion. You’ve been warned.

A letter to the NYT (November 3) from Jeffrey H. Toney, dean of the College of Natural, Applied and Health Sciences at Kean University (in New Jersey), on an op-ed piece “The Carnivore’s Dilemma” by Nicolette Hahn Niman (October 31), concludes:

The best advice Ms. Niman gives us is to pay attention to the source of meat products and what our mothers always told us: clean your plate. Regardless of what we choose to eat, doing so will reduce our dietary carbon footprint by half because “about half of the food produced in the United States is thrown away.”

The saying in my family for such occasions is “you don’t save nothing by eating it”, so I’m baffled by the idea that cleaning your plate will reduce our dietary carbon footprint.

I wonder if anyone has compared the carbon contribution of an amount of food discarded because it wasn’t eaten with the carbon contribution of the human waste resulting from eating that food. Surely people have studied the sources of discarded food: food left on the plate versus food that never makes it to the plate.

4 Responses to “Clean your plate”

  1. mollymooly Says:

    I presume the assumption is that, if you finish your lunch, then you will eat less at dinner, rather than eat as much regardless and so get fatter. The same is eaten but less is “consumed”, i.e. bought in store, and hence less will be produced. There are a lot of economic assumptions in this argument, but I don’t think the comparative carbon outputs of crap vs. trash are its main focus.

  2. The Ridger Says:

    Cook and serve less. Cleaning your plate helps nothing unless there’s less on it.

  3. m Says:

    As you imply in the last paragraph, most of the waste that contributes to that “half” figure is not food scraped off wasteful diners’ plates. It happens during processing, storage, shipment, etc. So this post fits with lots of the Language Log observations about statistics and misunderstanders or misrepresenters of them. You’ll have to try harder to get off topic, A.Z.

  4. hsgudnason Says:

    I think a large amount of food is also bought and then discarded after it turns up, years later, in the back of the freezer. A while back the media were studying an academic who studied garbage, who said that he commonly found high-priced cuts of meat in garbage dumps.

    Thus, eating what’s on your plate won’t reduce your carbon footprint, although cooking everything you buy might do so slightly.

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