Spent Labor Day throwing out food. It was at the Holy Apostles Soup Kitchen (HASK), where I haven' t volunteered in quite a while. In the past, I was put at the beverage station like most newbies, passing out hot coffee (in winter), lemonade or iced tea (in summer) to guests who'd just received trays of food, but this time I got to know the other end of the beast. I was part of the Trays team. This meant that we had to get unwanted food off trays, pour out unfinished drinks, and save what metal spoons we could, before bringing stacks of twenty or thirty scuzzy trays topped with precarious piles of spoons through the melee of people receiving food to the dish-washing station. As ever at HASK, the chaos was contained, and the roles well distributed: as I thwacked trays of uneaten baked beans, potato salad, jello and hamburger fixings smartly on the inside of plastic bins, someone else rotated bins and replaced the bags - so I have no sense of the volume, the weight, of returned food.
But it was a lot; an entirely empty tray was a rarity. This is a shame, but has its reasons. Operating on a HASK scale - over a thousand meals were served today (and trays returned!), a bit below the usual tally - asking guests what they want before serving it isn't an option. (Except for drinks.) So the guests exercise choice by eating some and not the rest - and not just, I suspect, because not everyone likes jello or baked beans. Excluded from America's consumerist simulacra of citizenship and authenticity, it's a way of asserting a personality. No more than the rest of us are they defined by mere need.