Rationing Nostalgia

by James Lileks
The British Left has the answer to our problems: End food waste by rationing meals.

It’s unfair to lay the entire tenor of modern leftism at the feet of some Guardian newspaper columnist, but since half the Internet consists of riding a soapbox up on a cherry picker, who are we to say no? An arresting opening line from “Life & Style” writer Michele Hanson:

I woke up one day last week and listened to Farming Today. Big mistake. It was all about mass death and suffering.

Reporting on Syrian agriculture? No, British animal-management.

Gassing and shooting badgers first, then chicken farming.

All in a day’s work, and not a pleasant one. But any program called “Farming Today” will eventually involve a fair amount of slaughter, until a) cows and pigs are trained to stop their own heartbeats on a command from Farmer Brown, or b) we stop eating meat. In the absence of progress towards either Noble Ideal, the quietus of any animal should be as humane as possible. Also, “Gassing Badgers” played an awesome set at a local club this week.

Comparatively happy, free-range chickens, mind you, but they still sounded horribly cramped to me. And some are corn-fed, so that in the shops, I heard, their skins are a lovely golden colour. Attractive corpses.

You might deduce that the author is a vegetarian. She’s not. She is concerned for the well-being of chickens, and that is her right. She is upset that 15 million tons of food is wasted in the U.K. each year, and this means some chickens suffered for naught. Now, her solution:

I long for a strict nanny state, to bring back rationing, so no one would be allowed to over-stuff themselves with great slabs of meat daily.

It’s not enough to have a nanny state to prevent great-slab consumption. We need a strict nanny state. A lax nanny lets you have a biscuit with milk when you have a friend over; a strict nanny slaps it out of your hand and hands you a carrot and a pamphlet on the social impact of obesity, complete with the Mission Statement of the EU Council on Juvenile Avoirdupois Reduction Commission. A strict nanny state has none of that Mary Poppins nonsense about a spoonful of sugar, and for heaven’s sake don’t suggest any artificial sweeteners to make the medicine go down. Here. Suck on this twig to take the bad taste away.

So it’s wrong to throw out food when chickens suffer for its provision. At least she stops with chickens, right? No: She also wants rationing because people “waste their crusts or peelings, reject twirly cucumbers or knobbly fruit and veg.”

Let’s see how that would work. If the state decides to manage every jot of sustenance that passes through your piehole, and you get two cucumbers per ration period, you will not reject the twirly ones. But don’t people get to perform triage at the grocery store, and pick out what they like? Either the state will deliver your two-cuke ration itself, or they’ll have to place a matron at the grocer’s, a stern emissary in starched white uniform barking NEIN! at anyone who examines the vegetables for the best selection. That would be lookism. (And ageism! “Twirly,” says an online dictionary of English slang, means “old.”)

In her world of the Dominatrix Nanny vs. the Crust-Wasters, you’d be soundly whipped for throwing away peelings. Possibly because they can be composted, or burned for energy.  Or fed to the pig that romps in the backyard and can be eaten when it falls over of old age. Even then you must report it to the Nanny so your ration is cut accordingly. That’s the only way to make sure people don’t waste pig. Yummy Marrow Flan and Duodenum Surprise and Diced Snouts in Aspic will be back on the menu again, just like the good old days before Britons could get Great Slabs from the local Slabatorium.

As for the aforementioned piehole, you would get one slice of pie per week, the slice hereafter defined as per EU regs as “a triangular portion of a baked confection with a grain-based foundation, with the total width of the originating object being no more than 0.3048 meters in diameter, with each slice comprising 1/16th of the pie.”

The real pith of the piece, though, is this.

“Food waste is a data-poor area,” says the committee, and advises starting to control it with “a non-legislative approach”. Wrong. Don’t they realise that hardly anyone does as they’re told unless they’re forced to? Especially if it means less money and less of what they like.

People are horrid like that.

There you have it: The state should use its coercive power to drastically cut back the amount and variety of food people choose to eat. If it means you have less money because you’re fined for not cooking their potato peelings into lunch mush, good. If you have less of what you like, good. Less money and less choice as a common goal may not sound like attributes of a free society, but these people abhor a free society.

Free societies lead to people eating only part of a chicken and throwing the rest out. Free societies lead to beef-slab intake that exceeds the quantity prescribed by a dietician who also wants people to live on kelp paste for a month.

There’s another reason for rationing: People are too fat. “Loads of us are waddling about, obese,” she sniffs. Somehow this doesn’t quite line up with the idea that England throws away too much food. If they were utter gluttons they’d eat it all, right? If the British meat industry produced 465 pounds for every citizen, and average consumption was 465 pounds, would the author applaud the hearty denizens of the Sceptered Isle for not leaving a molecule of waste?

I’ve no idea if English restaurant portions match the table-groaning loads you get at TGI-Chili’s McSteakery & Lobster Emporium, where your hamburger has the dimensions of a tractor tire and your side of ribs resembles a car door. (Diet nannies hate fast food, but at least you can order according to your appetite’s parameters, whereas popular restaurants seem to assume you are a lumberjack famished from a day of felling stout trunks.) But you can’t be equally worried about food waste and obesity. If the latter annoys you, then those gobbling proles should waste less. But then they would be fatter, which annoys the scolds on an aesthetic level.

The network of outrage is complex, each string vibrating on its own frequency.

It did make me examine my own food waste, to see how I would do when her kind gets their way. I made tacos. About six ounces of food, including three ounces of elderly lettuce, went down the disposal.  At least I can still do that: Scotland, as someone in the article’s comments noted, has banned non-domestic disposals, or “masticators,” as the delightful word has it. This is part of their Zero-Waste initiative.

The government’s website has a chart that shows how this Zero-Waste idea will work:

Looks like a surefire plan to me. Wonder what that cost to produce. Not a farthing of waste in that commission’s efforts, you’re sure.

To sum it all up: The state must be allowed to consume what it wants and constrain your freedom for your own good — and the chickens’ — but it is not your place to question its appetites. It knows best. Even the most devoted critic of the society Orwell described in 1984 has to admit they increased the choco-ration when possible.

Falstaff wept.

— James Lileks is a columnist for National Review Online.