Monday, August 6, 2012

Rant: Restaurants Should Cut Portion Sizes

Listen up restaurants! You might need to cut the portion sizes of your dishes, to reduce heaping plates to smaller dishes. I am not making this recommendation primarily due to concerns about obesity, although that is a significant problem and this idea would also help in that regard. No, I am concerned about another major problem that far less people consider and which receives far less media attention.

I am taking about Food Waste.

It is estimated that over 40% of the food that is produced for consumption ends up as waste. What an incredible statistic which should bother everyone. The EPA states that in 2010, more than 34 million tons of food waste were generated. All of this comes with a heavy cost, including increased food prices. More importantly, we have serious hunger issues in our country which are not being adequately addressed because so much food is being wasted. Just imagine how many people we could feed with that 40% of food if it did not end up as waste. We could probably come close to eliminating hunger in our country.

Chef Tom Douglas of Seattle is stepping up to do his part to try to reduce food waste, and he is going to do so by reducing portion sizes at his restaurants. The Puget Sound Business Journal recently reported on this issue, noting Tom's concerns and future plans. Meal prices would be subsequently reduced if portion size was cut back but the primary obstacle is tying to explain this matter to the customers. How do you tell people you are going to give them less food? Educating them about food waste would be a valuable by product of this process, and hopefully they would be understanding of Tom's efforts.

But that might not be the case. Many consumers have grown accustomed to huge portions, and the average size of many products, from hamburgers to sodas, has grown significantly over the years. Would everyone be satisfied with a smaller meal, even if it was good for numerous reasons? Or would they instead take their business to other restaurants which continued to provide them heaping platters of food, despite the fact they might not eat everything on their plate?

It is a complicated issue though one that needs to be addressed. How much food waste occurs at all-you-can-eat buffets? Are they really necessary? Should consumers accept smaller meals for the betterment of society as a whole? Are restaurant owners willing to reduce their portion sizes to do their part? Would they all lower their prices along with the portion sizes?

Kudos to Tom for addressing this significant issue. Are their any local restaurants which are trying to address the issue of food waste? If so, what are they doing about it?

For more information on this topic, check out the book American Wasteland by Jonathan Bloom.


Gabriella Opaz said...

I would imagine that this concept also applied to Household food expenses as well. We know in our household we waste a considerable amount of food despite the small amount of space available to us.

Frederick Wright said...

You're pushing against the tide, Richard! "Enough" is considered inadequate in our culture, whether it is food, cars, or houses. People are trying to fill a void which cannot be sated.

My partner and I simply and deliberately choose to eat at restaurants which use reasonable portion sizes -- fortunately there are many of them here in Boston!

ob2s said...

I frequent restaurants that offer 'appetizer' size portions or 1/2 sizes, call it what you will. Happy to pay less and get less.

Richard Auffrey said...

Hi Gabriella:
Yes, this would apply to home meals as well. Though at least with home meals, food might be eaten later as leftovers.

Hi Frederick:
Yes, it is a tough challenge, and too many people do want huge portions, even though they won't eat half of what ends up on their plate.

Hi ob2s,
Thanks, I like small plate restaurants too. You can get more diversity that way, and sharing the plates does leave less waste.

E. van Kleef said...

The good news is that smaller portion sizes do not make people less satisfied, as our recent study shows: