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Stuck Between a Feast and a Styrofoam Box

Erin O'Neil

All it took was throwing up chicken fingers for me to finally face reality.


Purchasing and eating a meal should be pretty straightforward, but in the United States of Supersizing, it’s not so simple. Appetizers are no longer something you snack on before a meal; they are big enough to be the meal itself. By the time the waitstaff comes around to ask if anyone is interested in dessert, we’re already scouring Google for heartburn medications. Last week, I ordered an Italian sub that could have been shared by an entire little league baseball team.


These portion sizes combined with the cringy generational catchphrase, “There’s a starving child in Africa who would love those green beans,” is the perfect recipe for some serious indigestion. Guilt is simply not something I should be forced to experience when I kindly listen to my body to—for the mother effing love of caloric intake—put the fork down. However, I then find myself stuck between a rock and a hard piece of plastic that becomes my only option to avoid food waste. It’s no wonder our planet is suffocating when to-go boxes are handed out as you sit down at your table.


We’ve all been there; staring at the portion size left on our plate after we found ourselves at a comfortable stopping point, faced with the decision to leave it, take it, or scarf it down. I never seem to have enough food left that’s worth polluting the planet, but always just enough that it would still be wasteful not to consume it. I paid for it, and it wasn’t cheap, so I may as well see if I can stuff just a little more in there; make the most of my investment, you know?


In an ideal world, hungry people should be getting one good meal for one reasonable price. Instead, we get two—sometimes three—meals for the excessive price of one. While this may seem like a great deal, most of that leftover food gets thrown away or is taken home in plastic containers that sit in the fridge for another several days before it’s forgotten altogether. I’m not opposed to two meals for the price of one, taken home in a reusable or recyclable container, but in my most recent case, I got zero for the price of one oversized basket of chicken fingers.


I made several mistakes that day. To start, I decided that chicken fingers and fries sounded like a reasonable post-Moderna feast. I also decided that forcing myself to finish the food I had paid for would be worth my discomfort. In my head, stuffing myself right before going to bed wasn’t such a terrible idea. But, as soon as those second shot symptoms kicked in, the nausea washed over me with resounding regret. I retreated to the far corner of the bathroom, my fevered body frigid against the tile floor.


As I bent over the rim of the toilet, staring into the abyss of regret, I realized one simple truth: not wasting food was wasting me instead. My devotion to avoiding to-go boxes and eating with frugal cash would surely come back to haunt my food-coma-induced dreams. Mentally, I may have been getting a better bang for my buck on chicken fingers, but physically, I was putting an irreversible strain on the one thing I can’t afford to replace.

Erin O'Neil is a writer living in Ohio.

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