Taking another look at food waste in the light of C.S. Lewis's The Screwtape Letters

(Photo: Aureliy Movila)

"Gather the pieces that are left over. Let nothing be wasted." So commands Jesus to his disciples after the feeding of the multitude.

Against this background it is gratifying to know that the issue of food waste is drawing increased attention, especially in light of Pope Francis's comment: "Throwing away food is like stealing from the table of those who are poor and hungry."

The nature of this issue certainly invites broader considerations — such as our eating habits among others.

One morning not too long I threw away a fried egg despite the fact that it was perfectly edible. Why? It wasn't properly done — at least in my mind. So I didn't give much thought to this action— until I picked up a copy of C.S. Lewis's The Screwtape Letters.

Interestingly enough, one of the letters centres on the subject matter of "gluttony of Delicacy" (instead of Excess). The veteran devil describes one woman, or "patient," in the following manner: "The woman is in what may be called the 'All-I-want' state of mind. All she wants is a cup of tea properly made, or an egg properly boiled, or a slice properly toasted.

But she never finds any servant or any friend who can do these simple things 'properly' ─ because her 'properly' conceals an insatiable demand for the exact, and almost impossible, palatal pleasures which she imagines she remembers from the past; a past described by her as 'the days when you could get good servants', but known to us as the days when her senses were more easily pleased and she had pleasures of other kinds which made her less dependent on those of the table" (my emphasis).[1]

I know—the passage is not addressing the issue of food waste per se. Nevertheless, the passage does provoke reflections of all sorts revolving around the topic in question. For instance, what am I going to do next time with some food that isn't properly made, boiled, toasted, etc.? Throw it away? More importantly, how should I view food in light of my spiritual journey? And, subsequently, in light of all the food waste that is going on? (Note: I am not here talking about something half-cooked, undercooked, etc. that will obviously make you sick if you eat it).

The fact is that much of the food here in the US is wasted. How serious is the problem? One need only read the full title of Jonathan Bloom's book, American Wasteland: How America Throws Away Nearly Half of Its Food (and What We Can Do About It).

The question remains: "Why does so much food get wasted in the US?" One reason according to Bloom is that, "There's a sense of perfectionism that seeps into our consciousness in that we want food to look just so. If anything is wrong— shape, size, color or, God forbid, there's a small blemish— an item will be tossed aside. Appearance trumps taste. But sometimes the best-tasting foods doesn't look beautiful. Ugly food is tasty too" (my emphasis).[2]

Needless to say, there are a host of reasons why we waste food. But as demonstrated above some are quite silly—to put it politely.

There is no doubt that Pope Francis will continue to bring attention to this issue­­. I hope that an increasing number of Christian leaders will also pursue the task of reducing food waste while articulating the need to have a healthy attitude toward food.


[1] C. S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters (Westwood, New Jersey, 1961), 87-8.

[2] http://newhope360.com/managing-your-retail-business/how-can-retail-reduce-food-waste

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