The question has been present for decades – is it more polite to eat every little crumble on your plate or leave few bites? The answer substantially depends on the customs and traditions of each country. While in some parts of the world, leaving food on the plate is considered rude, in other parts, it is deemed to be respectful and, moreover, it is the only acceptable way.
Although it’s a slippery slope to argue anything about tradition and culture, there is a fair amount of reasons against leaving anything on your plate. If we only think of 1.3 billion tonnes of food wasted each year, we might think twice before throwing good food just because of the culture. (http://www.fao.org/food-loss-and-food-waste/flw-data) Not to mention issues like the severe undernourishment in many parts of the world, along with the environmental and financial impact of food waste and food loss.
Certainly, the question goes deeper than just leaving few bites on the plate. If we explore this phenomenon more, we cannot ignore the traditional aspects. For example, in China, you will earn judgmental stares if you finish everything on your plate. That means that the food portion was too small for you and that the host didn’t offer enough food.
Along with the tradition, there is a great deal of psychology, personal habits and social norms involved. A study shows that people leave less food on the plate when eating at home – only 3% of their portion size. On the other hand, when they eat food ordered from outside, that percentage sprang to 40%. (https://insights.globalspec.com/article/7983/people-leave-less-food-behind-on-their-plates-when-dining-at-home)
Another study that researched leaving food on the plate in restaurants showed that more than 25% of participants didn’t eat the entire portion the last time they ate out. More than half of them weren’t concerned about it at all. When asked why they left their food on the plate, 41% of participants said the meal sizes were too big. However, some people don’t want to seem ravenous when sharing a meal with someone. So, they will eat less according to the people they are with. More often than not, people will leave their food if they eat a multiple-course meal as they want to try everything from a starter to a dessert. (https://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/food-waste-eating-out-restaurants)
Understandably, there is a chance that people don’t like the food served to them so they will most probably leave it untouched or ask for a different meal. Still, to prevent such inconvenience, we should ask the staff about the food we want to order and check if this is something we would like.
Many would argue that few bites left on the plate won’t feed a hungry child in Africa or India. Yet, it’s not solely about the few bites. It’s about changing the entire behavior as a consumer and being constantly aware of the amount of food being bought, cooked and ordered each day.
There are numerous ways to improve our eating habits, regardless of where our food comes from. If people choose their own food and serve themselves, they will more likely eat all the food on their plate. In restaurants, we can always ask the waiter to pack the extra food we cannot finish. At home, an efficient way of preventing unnecessary food waste is better meal planning and well-thought shopping lists. Also, we can always find creative ways to combine leftovers and create a new meal for the day.