In Monterey yesterday for lunch at a Thai restaurant, I encountered a sign taped to the top of the lunch buffet. It read, “Please take only What you will eat, $2.00 Extra will be charged On left over food.”
How brilliant — and how depressing, for this bit of motherly haiku neatly captured the the unhappy present of American consumerism and also what our collective future holds. Waste is so built into our culture that people think nothing of taking more than they can possibly eat, and could not care less if it is thrown out. It reminded me of otherwise socially aware acquaintances who refuse to eat leftovers, and thus quite happily toss astonishing amounts of good food into the trash.
But the sign, startling in it’s chiding bluntness, also felt very much like a message from the future. We have already seen demonstrations in Mexico over the cost of maize flour, driven up by the diversion of American corn from dinner plate to gas tank. The immorality of converting food to auto fuel is self-evident; yet just yesterday, the Environmental Protection Agency ratified the corn-to-ethanol conversion by disallowing any drop in the legal minimum of ethanol added to American gasoline. I wonder what sign is on the buffet table in the bureaucrats’ lunchrooms in Washington, for it certainly is not the one I encountered in Monterey.