What is it about the breakfast buffet that transforms otherwise judicious eaters who might normally consume a morning bowl of cereal into insatiable, wasteful gluttons?
I spent a two-week, mid-year break in Israel. We stayed at three different hotels each of which offered what has become standard in Israel: a sumptuous breakfast buffet.
What I noticed time and time again was guests returning to their tables, two hands, carrying two plates, piled high with at least two of everything– two croissants, two bourekas, double portions of cheese, fruit, smoked salmon. Guests own tables were becoming mini buffets of their own.
The gluttony in of itself while disturbing isn’t nearly as troubling as the waste, as the eyes bigger than the stomach theme pervaded these mini buffet tables. Frequently tables were abandoned with enough remaining food for a second sitting. Why can’t you take one of what looks appetising and return for seconds if you’re still hungry? At least the few steps to the buffet table provides some exercise and more importantly, pause for thought about whether you really need the extra serving.
The United Nations reports that about one third of the food produced for human consumption every year is wasted. What’s even more alarming is consumers in wealthy countries waste almost as much food as the entire net food production of sub-Saharan Africa.
So why does our behaviour change when something is free or unlimited? Do we feel we’re not getting our money’s worth if we don’t indulge? Are we trying to game the system by consuming more than what we have paid for?
One hotel we stayed at had presumably grown wise to guest wastage and offered only small plates at the buffet. Guests, not to be deterred, shamelessly piled up their plates. Then with the dexterity, and balancing skills of an Olympic gymnast, they skilfully swerved and sidestepped other guests and tables back to base, before returning to continue the juggling act. Clearly, some were seasoned performers.
Perhaps there should be a charge or fine imposed on what you don’t eat. Staff should be encouraged to gently embarrass guests and ask: “Is anything wrong?” referring to the uneaten food.
Guests need to understand than unlike Noah’s flood, the breakfast buffet is not going to wash away. If hunger persists, they can always return for that second or third boureka.