"What a waste of food!"

I observed an interesting and thought provoking encounter today on my way home from work. Circumstances had caused me to take a differing route home to my usual, and I ended up walking past the "green man and pomegranate" (name of pub changed to protect the innocent) - not my usual pub, but I fancied a change.

The pub was doing quite good business for a Monday night, and I had difficulty finding a table in the Non-Smoking area. To get a seat in the Non-Smoking, I had to sit slap bang in the middle of this section - I normally prefer sitting with my back to a wall. Diagonally to my right and in front of me, was a solitary man; to my immediate right were a couple who were dining, and to their right was sitting the landlord of my normal pub. We clocked each other when I walked past him, and I thought it was a surprise seeing him in the green man, eyeing up the competition.

I am guessing that the couple had not known each other that long, and they had over ordered their food. The man was eating "surf and turf" - a steak with accompanying fried scampi, the woman had ham and eggs. When the couple departed, most of the ham and eggs was untouched, but the man has eaten most of the steak, but their were plenty of scampi and chips (fries) left on his plate.

A minute after the couple left, there was an exclamation from the solitary gentleman "What a waste of food!" My thoughts were in agreement about this couple's eating habits. But then the man sidles up to the table where the couple were sitting, and takes both their plates onto his table.

My pub landlord's jaw hits the floor as the man polishes off first the ham and eggs, then what was remaining of the surf and turf. I am wondering how this landlord would have acted if someone had done this in his pub.

The gentleman did not look hard done by - his appearance and attire was not at all dishevelled, and if anything he did not look thin. I was torn between despising him for a total disregard to etiquette in a public place, and admiring his gall for challenging one of our strongest social taboos. Then I reflected that I had better not adopt his call, as I am overweight enough as it is.

After leaving this pub, I mused on the implications of food in upbringing, particularly my own. I can trace some of my sympathy for this man to lectures from my mother and father about "The Starving Millions in Africa". I was the youngest of five, with a large age gap to the next sibling, and I do have recollections of any surplus food - second helpings - being eaten quickly by the others if I was not fast enough, getting my bid in.

I guess this childhood legacy might explain why I am overweight. When it comes to challenging the social taboo of eating someone's leftovers, I know that to eke out an existence, one of my sisters would have no hesitation. Indeed (so I'm told) she used to eat my leftovers when I was a one year old.