Food for thought

Whose fault is it if someone cannot finish his food?

(I’m only talking about food wastage for home-cooked meals.)

Short term: If one does not finish his food, it means, in basic economic terms, that the supply of food has exceeded the person’s demand for food. Where do the supply and demand for food come from?

The quantity of food supplied depends on the food purchasing and food cooking decisions of the supplier. These can usually be varied pretty easily – however in the short term, with the amount of food one already has, the decision maker can probably only decide how much to cook, and make preliminary planning decisions on how much to buy. Demand relies on how much the individual eats in order to be satisfied. In the short term, this is really quite fixed. I may be hungry or full, and this tends to change all the time on many external factors.

If that is the case, how does one go about making one’s short-term supply decisions? In the household, this is usually done with long-term consumption patterns in mind – if person A has eaten an average of amount X for half of his life, it would probably be wise to cook amount X for him. However, demand conditions are usually extremely volatile in the short run, and if you cook a consistent amount all the time, it is likely that you would meet the demand only occasionally. To put it simply, this means that it is difficult to make precise supply decisions unless this is done with prior information from the demand side.

How do supply and demand time lags affect where the “fault” lies? Since there are time lags between supply and demand (as one takes time to cook) it is possible to balance supply and demand if sufficient information is shared between the supplier and the demander. However, if information (on supply decisions) is provided from the supplier to the demander, it would not make much of a difference as to whether too much or too little food was produced because the demand probably would not react that much to the amount supplied, being fixed in the short term.

However, if the demander informs the supplier on how much he wants to eat, the supplier would probably be able to adjust the amount cooked in order to balance demand. Therefore, if too much food is cooked (leading to food wastage), the demander should be blamed if he did not provide the information (or inaccurate information) – and the supplier should be blamed if he did not react appropriately to the information. (assumption here being an is-ought jump)

Long-term: If there is food wastage that happens at almost every meal, there must be a problem with either long-term supply decisions (on how much food to buy) or long-term demand decisions. Again, it is still easier to reduce supply than to increase demand in the long term in order to reach equilibrium consistently, as one probably does not and cannot change his demand patterns significantly over a period of time. Even if one was able to do so, the direction of change might or might not narrow the gap between supply and demand!

Whether there are consistent patterns of food wastage in the long term thus depend mostly upon long-term supply decisions. However, unlike the short term, supply decisions in the long term do not have to rely on information coming from the demander in order to balance demand. It can depend on previous consumption patterns from the demander, i.e. the supplier should be able to extrapolate the appropriate long-term supply based on long-term demand patterns. It follows that long-term consistent patterns of food wastage can only be blamed on the supply of food, regardless of whether information has been provided by the demand side.

In a nutshell: tell people how much you want to eat, and eat that amount, then you can’t be blamed for food wastage.

Interesting stuff. (for those who read the blog purely for Scrabble, I’m guessing most, I should be posting Scrabble in a few days)

P.S. Is anyone else getting irritated over the Straits Times Sports pages getting all tabloidy over the headlines? They bolden, capitalise and italicise almost every headline and redden one or more of its words (probably to show how intense sporting is). Something like this:


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