Taking Phrases for Granted

Saying we take something for granted is a terrible and loaded statement.

Let’s use food for our example. It is common for someone to say Americans take our ability to consume food for granted: we just throw away the unused portion without concern for whether we will eat tomorrow. But what is implied when stating we take something for granted?

The meaning I sense behind such statements is that we either don’t appreciate what we have in light of the others’ lack of access to food (most of us are familiar with those proverbial poor children in Africa who go without) or else we abuse our abundance. I remember being admonished when I was about ten to eat all my food because if I wasted it then somehow that would be wrong. Looking down into my large pink bowl I wondered, “Does someone really want to eat this after I’m done?” I failed to make the connection between my bowl of Ramen noodles and some unknown entity halfway across the world.

Listen, most people understand there is hunger in the world–and not just overseas. But to say we take food consumption for granted is largely an overstatement. In the first meaning, lack of concern for those who are without food, are we supposed to eat every morsel with those who aren’t so privileged always in mind? Should we eat reluctantly and with remorse? Should we squeeze every drop out of the ketchup packets or else risk the sting of our conscience?

In the second meaning, abuse of abundance, when was the last time you maniacally ate a sandwich with such disregard and abandon that meat and cheese and lettuce glittered across the carpet? When’s the last time you prepared a pie and instead of resting it on the windowsill to cool, you let it cool right in the trashbin?

To what extent should we avoid “taking for granted” our access to food? I work in food service (see my handiwork above) and see food get thrown away daily. But is it really waste if the food was already paid for? It would be nice to give away leftovers–and some companies do. But sometimes its impractical–maybe the food would spoil before it could reach those, especially those overseas, who could use it.

No one really takes things for granted–they live within the parameters of their surroundings. I’ve always believed those with and those without would act the same way were the roles shifted. To blame someone for taking advantage of a system that permits food abundance is a misplace of blame. We aren’t abusing our abundance; we don’t eat with malice against those who can’t. We enjoy having our cake–and eating it too. And of course we appreciate it.

The phrase “taken for granted” is itself taken for granted: it is abused and misused. I think.