I can't speak for the rest of the world, but most of the Americans I know got admonished by their parents "Don't waste food!"
I think that's bad advice.
Wasting any sort of resource isn't good and should be avoided. But, there's a lot of other things at stake when you're talking about food. For instance, your time, your energy/health, and money.
Having gotten this strong admonition to never waste food growing up, I always felt guilty if I went out and bought some fruits or vegetables that I wasn't sure if I could finish before they went bad.
The end result? No food in the house, so go out to eat. Pay more, eat worse food.
That's stupid. That's really stupid.
Much better to buy 5 apples a week and throw 1 away, than to buy no apples and eat higher-priced lower quality food.
This has been surprisingly difficult for me to mentally re-wire - it's okay to waste food. It's not good, but it's not so bad either. Certainly, wasting food shouldn't be sacred apart from other kinds of resources like time and money - and most importantly, your health.
Waste some food if it helps you reach your goals. It ain't so bad.
I got the same from my parents. I was pondering about the "can't speak for the rest of the world, but most of the Americans I know" and while I could say the same about most Europeans I know, I was wondering if this is generational/cultural rather than geographical. At least in my case I suspect a direct link with temporal distance from WW2, or in other words a time of scarcity. Eating out was certainly not an option at that time, and you wouldn't want to leave food on your plate because you didn't know when your next meal would have been. In that situation the most efficient thing to do was to eat everything you had, no exceptions. Now that the conditions have changed and the problem is no longer lack of food, but rather excessive spending and poor quality meals as a result of eating out, the most efficient thing to do has changed.
Good timing, last week I released an app that helps you remember about the food that you have in your fridge.
One thing I also do is to batch cooking every sunday. It takes to me less than 70 minutes to cook quality meals (in my case, rice with a chicken/veggies wok and veggies soup), and as a result I almost don't have to cook from monday to thursday. So I don't eat out as often as I used to and that's better for my health and my finances!
It's better to let food go to waste than to let it go to your waist. If there's one thing worse than getting fat by eating too much yummy food, it's got to be getting fat by eating food you don't really want.
Not to mention health consequences of scenes like: "The apples/tomatoes/whatever are perfectly OK! Look, I will just cut off the bad part. We can't just throw it away!"
Cool thing is that bananas almost never get spoiled. Even if they are almost completely brown, they are still good to eat - as they merely ripened up. (Just don't confuse mashed bananas with ripened bananas). In fact, half-brown bananas are healthier than yellow/green bananas, because the starches are transformed to sugars, so they are easier to digest.
Something that helped me was to realize that wasted food biodegrades just fine. The primary hard-to-replace resource that you've wasted is somebody's time.
And with modern farming, when you calculate how little of somebody's time you've wasted and then realize you paid them for that time, it's really not so bad. You wasted a bit of money, but not much, and that's basically it.
I eat pretty well and take pretty good care of myself. But it's taken quite a while to get here - before 2006, I had a pretty standard American diet. Lots of pizza, junk food, fast food, liquor, soda, sweets, etc. I smoked cigarettes, cigars, sheesha, and other kinds of tobacco.
Since then I've refined my diet and I eat pretty well. I have more energy, feel better, look better, and God willing, I'll live a lot longer as a result. It's a gradual process though, and I'm still improving. There's a few things I use to do it:
First, I'm all about incremental improvement - I think trying to crash change your diet is unlikely to work unless you have immense amounts of willpower and self-discipline. If you do have these Herculean amounts of will and discipline, you know who you are and don't need my advice. If you're more mortal, then you'll want to pick one or two things to be refining in your diet at a time.
Second, there's two ways I quit food or habits I don't like - "hard quitting" (cold turkey) and "soft quitting" (gradually reduce my consumption and eventually eliminate it). I pick which of these routes to go based on how convenient it is to quit something outright and if there's any detox process. If there's detox (like there was with nicotine), I think it's better to just get it over with once instead of constantly feeling deprived as your body re-adjusts to its new biochemical levels. The most successful method for quitting smoking is cold turkey, isn't it? Something like 80% of successful attempts to quit smoking are cold turkey? I don't have the statistics onhand, but that's the general idea. Quitting something like sugar, bad oils, or excess salt might be easier to do incrementally, since you need to replace the consumption with something else.
Which brings us to third point - I actively introduce new good behaviors before and during the time I quit something. Now, I don't know if the following is a good strategy, but it's what I did - when I started cutting down the sweets I ate, I increased my consumption of the kinds of salty foods I already ate: Chips, french fries, nuts, etc. Later I cut the salt content back. I don't know if that's a good habit, but it's worked okay for me. I also try to actively introduce fruits and vegetables before I quit something - it's hard to go from no fiber food that's highly processed to stimulate you immediately to fruits and vegetables. Fruit tastes bland compared to ice cream. So I introduce fruits and vegetables first, get comfortable with them, then increase my consumption of them as I decrease or eliminate bad consumption.
I used to walk into McDonalds and often times I wouldn't be charged for my food. Why? Because I went there so frequently and brought so many friends, that they knew I was good for business. My favorite meal was the Fishwich, a mighty sandwich made with a bun, american cheese, a deep fried fish patty, and a generous portion of tartar sauce. To fully sate my appetite I always supersized.
My parents had always encouraged me to eat healthy. I just didn't see the point. I felt good, I wasn't fat, and I never got sick. Why fix what isn't broken? I was thankful for my good metabolism and assumed that eating healthy was for people who didn't have it so good.
Then a couple years ago I watched Super Size Me. I watched it for entertainment, but it was the first time I began to believe that what I ate actually mattered. If you haven't seen the movie, I highly recommend it. When subjected to a McDonalds only diet, the creator became depressed, lethargic, and generally didn't feel too well. That was the day I stopped eating fast food.