The all you can eat India buffet in downtown Asheville is always packed. Electronic music pulses though the space. Hindu Gods stare down from their perches on the wall. It is a free-for-all, and the line stretches out the door.
As a waitress at this bustling restaurant, I watch as people fill their plates again and again. All you can eat! We might as well take as much as we can, right? The bill will only ever total 9 dollars. The actually cost, though, is much more.
In a four-hour shift, I scrap curry, rice, fresh vegetables, and second-and-third helpings left nearly untouched, into the garbage bin. Worst yet, at the end of the day everything left in the buffet goes directly into the trash. Pushing perfectly good food into a plastic-lined bin, I look up at my co-worker, Jose. He stands shaking his head and says, “In my country we would never do this. Good food just to waste.”
I say a silent prayer to the earth, to all the farmers who grew this food, to all the animals who were raised to end up here, and I say sorry.
Before throwing everything out, I fill plastic containers with curry, sag paneer, tamarind rice, and tandori chicken. I fill my backpack each day, and yet I only save a fraction of the buffet from going into the trash. At home, I fill my fridge with Indian food. My backpack smells of coriander and cumin.
I am confronted by my manager one day: “I saw you taking food.” “I wasn’t taking it, I was saving it,” I say. “You’ll be fired if I see it again.” “But it’s just going in the trash anyway.” “Don’t let me see it happen again.”
This magnitude of waste, when amplified by all restaurants, bars and bakeries in this city, state and country, is painful for me to imagine. More than that, it is disrespectful to all humans experiencing hunger, to all animals raised for slaughter, and to the very earth that gives us life.
I have faith, however, that we can create change. Initiatives like Food Shift, based in Oakland, CA and dedicated to educating and curbing food waste while empowering local communities to cultivate more sustainable practices, give me hope. This organization acknowledges food waste as a destructive and costly environmental issue that needs to be addressed.
After the lunch-time crowds fade, I take my apron off. I walk out the door, my shoes stained with spices, and wonder, when will we change, when will we shift? I read the sign, “All you can eat, everyday,” and I walk away.
Bio: Aiyanna grew up on the island of Kauai. She was educated at The Cambridge School of Weston, Sarah Lawrence College, and Oxford University. Aiyanna lives in Asheville North Carolina where she works as a contributing writer and marketing associate for the city’s independent local newspaper. Feel free to contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.