A couple of weeks ago, I sat with a friend, eating in The Red Hot Buffet (It’s nice, if you’ve never been).

On the table across from us, we observed a woman, possibly in her mid to late 30’s eating like she hadn’t eaten for some considerable time.  It wasn’t the image of someone hungry, she was starving.  She was eating a plate of salad, with cheeses and ketchup, washed down with a glass of water.  Hers was not a desire to satisfy a hunger, it was a need.

She returned to the buffet  leaving a small item of hers on the table.  We noticed, peeping out of her bag under the table, a collection pot – the plastic kind you see on shop counters, or held by people in the street – relieving you of your last few coins.  She returned with another choice – not a great amount of food, and not all of it eaten.  She went again, and returned with one of their very small puddings, again, not finishing it all.  She collected her few belongings and returned to the buffet, circling… picked up a slice of pizza, circled again, and then entered the ladies toilet, which was just off to the side of the buffet area.

We watched the door with anticipation, predicting the outcome….

We didn’t have to wait long, she came out of the ladies and casually walked out of the front door…. and she was gone.

Without much thought, her table was cleared and before long another couple were seated there.  Had she been completely unnoticed?  No drinks were charged to the table…?  We pondered for some time as to whether this would completely pass them by, but later, looking at the pained expression of the restaurant manager, we assumed not.

There are many things here.  We witnessed someone take something and not pay.  A Petty (?) crime.  We saw a collection box in her bag and made assumptions, rightly or wrongly, that it might have been stolen.  We saw a basic need for food when there was food in abundance.

I’ll be honest with you.  I have no issues with what she did, or indeed what we also assumed her to have done.  For me, it only raised further questions around food waste.

How much food is consumed and wasted in such an environment?  How do they manage the food that sits out there all day?  And what do they do with the food that needs to be thrown away…?  On a similar vein, in a well known supermarket, I once bought a bag of potatoes for 9p.  NINE PENCE!  Because regulations meant that after midnight they were only allowed to throw them away.  What would that bag of potatoes mean to a family with nothing?

I wonder where she is, whether she had a home.  Whether she is getting cold now that summer is over.  I wonder if and where she might have found her next meal.  No, I don’t know her circumstances.  I don’t need to.  She was starving, and for at least that brief time that our paths met, I’m glad that she ate a good meal, I wish her many more.