On Culture Shock and Waste by A. Lynn Powers

For the past 5+ years, I have made my home in Japan. I started my adventure in a very conservative, rural area filled with traditional Japanese customs, and eventually I settled into a fast-paced metropolitan lifestyle in the suburbs of Tokyo. Language barriers aside, you can imagine that I have experienced more than my fair share of culture shock.

About once a year, I return to my hometown in Memphis, Tennessee, to visit with family and re-convince them that I am perfectly fine living on my own in a foreign land. I laugh off attempts at guilt trips and make excuses as to why I need to stay in Japan just one more year. Or two.

The truth is: when I go back to America, I feel more culture-shocked than when I am in Japan, and it all revolves around one thing.


I am appalled at how wasteful Americans are. I don’t mean to stereotype or generalize here, but I’m seriously speaking from what I have witnessed with my own two eyes. Americans are wasteful.

Think about it. How much food do you purchase or prepare that ends up in the trash? How often do you order an extra large drink from the drive-thru only to pour out half of its watered-down remains? When you eat at a restaurant, how much food goes untouched on your plate? Do you always take home your leftovers? If you do, how often do you really eat them?

In Japan, it is customary to eat everything given to you at a meal. There are no such things as “doggie-bags” or “take-out boxes” in restaurants because no one ever leaves any leftovers. Yes, the portion sizes are smaller, but only to reduce wasting food that can’t be eaten at the meal.

I also once witnessed a waitress refuse to accept a young girl’s order because she didn’t believe that the girl would be able to eat it all. The girl simply replied, “Oh, right.” And then ordered something more size-appropriate for her petite frame.

In some all-you-can-eat restaurants/buffets, patrons are charged an additional fee if they put food on their plates and do not eat it. I’m not even kidding. I can’t imagine that would go over well in the US.

I could expand into other categories as well. Clothing. Fuel. Electricity. Bath water. But it’s the food that gets me the most. I feel physically ill watching all that food being thrown in the trash without a second thought, and the Japanese word mottainai [“What a waste!”] screams inside my head. If Scott were writing this, he might point out how 18,000 children die every year from hunger. Yet here we are, throwing away however many pounds of food a day just because our eyes are bigger than our stomachs.

Yes, we need food to survive. But how much do we really need?

Not as much as we take, that’s for sure.

Published by A. Lynn Powers

A. Lynn Powers is the amazing author of many awesome books including Being Medusa: And Other Things That Suck. Read it now! :)

Join the Conversation


  1. You have a very good point. Just reevaluating myself, my sister always makes fun of me when I take home food from a restaurant because I don’t tend to eat it. After a few times of ignoring her, I looked in my fridge and she was completely right. It is so easy to get more than we need here because we can and for me the portions are usually too large. I go to a restaurant order something, eat half and the rest dies a sad death in my fridge. It is sad how much gets wasted because we tend to be so absent minded. I work at a college and the amount of food that goes to waste is disturbing when I think about how many people do not know where their next meal is coming from. Between the students putting more on their plates then they will ever eat to our cooks over producing items, pounds and pounds of food is leftover and ultimately end up in the trash.

  2. I am friends with a Rabbi who tries to order less when we go with it asxa group. For example, if every order for 9 people comes with fries he will say just bring 6. The waitresses usually say they have to ask a managee and/or bring 9 anyway. Experiencing this sort of waitstaff reaction is eyeopening as to just how ingrained waste is in our culture.

  3. I think awareness is the best place to start. Most people never even make it to this step, or have an attitude more like, “Well, I paid for it, so it’s mine and I can do whatever I want with it.”

    That’s great to hear about the Rabbi who is actually taking measures to do something!

  4. You bring up some interesting points Amy. I’m from South Africa and and I can honestly say that we are not that different when it comes to wasting. Even me sometimes. But I try not to be 🙂 although sometimes there are situations where I just can’t have to throw somethingaway, like you said – someone is sitting in a restaurant and ordering more than he/she can take. Why? Because they can. There will always be people like this. Everywhere, not just in the US.

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