Jay-Z once painted an image of his younger self making corrupt decisions by rapping the line “Hov did that, so hopefully you won’t have to go through that.” In this verse, Hov urges his listeners against the lifestyle he once lived selling crack on the streets. This line popped into my head last December while stuffing my face full of Brazilian meats and sides at an alarming, and frankly overwhelming rate at Fogo de Chao. With my meat sweats trickling and my mouth full I told my significant other that this place should be banned. Yet, I immediately resented my own arrogance. Who am I to spend 50 bucks at a place then say it shouldn’t be experienced by others? But in my defense, like Jay, I did it so you won’t have to.
On a serious note, there is something inherently wrong with eating at Fogo de Chao and places of its stature. Anyone who chooses to be conscious of their ecological footprint as well as the lives of others may feel the pains of eating at such a place. It just feels wrong, barbaric even. For a minimum of 55 dollars, multiple waiters come to your table divvying up lavish cuts of meats from cows, chickens, and pigs to your plate quicker than it takes to slice into one of those tender slivers of meat. The impeccable staff service means that your side dishes are continually replaced one after the other once a maximum of about three bites is had.
It may sound as though I am bragging about such an experience, but rest assured I am not. I am aware of the privilege that I possess in society. Although my combined gender and race yields any strong representation in social or political avenues, I (along with the hundreds of others who choose to have a fancy night out every once in a while) can afford to drop 50 dollars or more on a meal that consists of no leftovers, and yet still be able to afford to tip the waiters generously, tip the complimentary valet parker, buy a beer afterwards, then still pay rent and do Christmas shopping at the end of the month. To think, middle class families can only afford such an experience every now and then, but this is a lifestyle held by the most well-off and smallest economic minority, the wealthy 1%.
For the rest of the planet food is not a luxury, it’s a necessity. While I stuff my face with wood-fire cooked meats delivered by Brazilian waiters in genie pants, someone is digging through a trashcan or dealing with the pain of an enlarged and deprived stomach. While my water gets refilled every time I take a sip, hundreds are drinking from filthy water reserves or walking miles and risking attacks for water.
Fogo de Chao felt like the representation of decadence, a terrifying decadence that goes unnoticed by those taking advantage of it. While we sit, laugh, and drink alcohol from a pineapple, no one questions where the half eaten plate of food goes when the servers take it away. Or about the slabs of meat that are still on skewers but not aesthetically pleasing enough to continue serving to customers. Thee foods not served to the costumers should ideally be preserved and sent to a homeless shelter, a food bank, recooked, or fed to stray animals. I asked the waiter where all the food goes. He answered as bluntly as one would expect of such an obvious answer to a naive question: the trash.
A University of Arizona study estimated in 2005 that nearly 50 million pounds of food is wasted in all full service restaurants while 85 million pounds goes chucked in fast food establishments. This is part of the reason that one-third of the food that is produced for human consumption is lost or wasted from farm to kitchen. Studies show that the amount of food wasted in a year would be enough to feed 70 percent of the hungry citizens of the country, nearly enough to eradicate hunger as we know it. This excessive food waste is detrimental to the environment as food sitting in landfill emits methane a greenhouse gas more potent than carbon dioxide. We have options to limit our food waste but it’s up to citizens and restaurants to make the effort.
If restaurants were to monitor their food production and distribution they could then easily practice better waste management skills that could turn discarded foods into beneficial products. Composting is the easiest, safest method of repurposing food scraps and unwanted food both in restaurants and in homes. Composting table scraps and unneeded elements like egg shells or fruit and vegetable ends are perfect ways to boost nitrogen and carbon in soil for healthier plants and speedy growth. Biogas is another method that can be practiced. Through a process known as anaerobic digestion, waste gets broken down in a closed system of fermentation where oxygen is not present. This forms biogas a substance that can be used as a renewable energy source and results in a very small carbon footprint. Imagine if all the food that is wasted could be converted into a natural gas that could further fuel vehicles, space heaters, and stoves.
There’s nothing wrong with wanting to treat ourselves to a nice night out every now and then where we can blow through a paycheck because yes we do deserve to wind down and treat ourselves after working 40 hours a more a week. The problem is when we don’t see the error in our ways. Why should I inconvenience myself for some starving people that I can’t help? One might ask. That is the attitude we bring to the table at places like this. We pay them their overcharged price for them to continue to afford to toss their expensive cuts of meat at will to the curb to be discarded rather than repurposed or saved. We tell these places that we too don’t care about anything other than our own guts and glory and could care less about the starving living beings of the city right now.
The fact that places like Fogo de Chao can coexist in a world where over 800,000 people in the US go hungry every day means something is truly broken in our system. We need to start demanding more from their discarding practices and come up with solutions to donate the leftovers and scraps to those who need them. Why can’t the homeless eat filet mignon too?