The Downsides of All-Inclusive Buffets

I am quite ambivalent about all-inclusive resorts. On the one hand, staying in one is a real treat, a rare luxury. Unlike active vacations that require a lot of planning, for an all-inclusive you just have to pack and show up. These kinds of vacations are the only ones that allow me to take a real break from the least-pleasant chores that come with motherhood: doing laundry, tidying up, buying groceries, cooking and washing all those dishes… And yet, at the infrequent times we go on one, I always end up feeling rather uncomfortable.

Part of my unease derives from my discomfort with the idea of having other people do basic chores for me. While it’s really nice to leave a room dirty and messy and return to find it clean and neat, I somehow feel guilty about the unseen hands that did the work. I know that my being there creates jobs for people, and that the money I spend helps them feed their families. But somehow I can’t shake off the feeling that I should be the one cleaning after myself (and my brood of pretty messy kids!). Having elves do my work just doesn’t feel right.

The part I find most disturbing is the all-inclusive buffet. Although I really enjoy walking into a well-stacked dining room, eating all I can, and then leaving without having to worry about dirty dishes, I still  find the entire setup concerning on many different levels.

For spring break this year my family and I traveled to Cancun, Mexico, and stayed at an all-inclusive resort. The place had multiple dining rooms, and they were all well stacked for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Each meal included multiple dishes of every imaginable kind. Food was plentiful, and it was presented in a beautiful, artistic manner:

Great, no? Well … not really. The food was so beautiful, that we wanted to try everything. Since it was self-served, we often ended up taking more than we could ever eat. That lead to problem number one: The breakdown of all our hard-worked self-restraint. At home, I try to teach the kids to eat until they are full, and no more. With an all-inclusive buffet that goes to tatters. Everyone ate way too much.

Problem number two: Sadly, despite looking amazing and making us droll, most of that food didn’t actually taste all that good. We took one bite and didn’t want to finish. We ended up throwing much of it. Now, if you’ve been reading my posts for a while, you probably know that I’m quite obsessed with waste-preventing. At home I try to use things up as much as possible. I don’t buy more than we can eat. I creatively use leftovers. And on the rare occasions when food does get spoiled, I religiously compost it. So seeing my family (me included!) throw all that food was quite painful.

Problem number three: EVERYONE in the dining room was taking too much and eating too little. The amounts of food going to waste were staggering. I started wondering: all the waste at the resort completely dwarfed my obsessive conservation efforts at home. A year of my meticulous, daily efforts probably spared the planet less waste than was produced in one meal at the resort. I began doubting whether my efforts were really worthwhile, or whether they actually made any difference…

Problem number four: Several years of sever California drought put us all in water-conserving mode. Yet, here we were, at a place where plates disappeared seemingly on their own the minute you put your fork down. Every second, third or fourth helping came in its own new, clean plate. How much water did they use to wash all those dishes??? In the big scheme of things, did it really matter if we cut our shower time by another minute??

Problem number five had to do with desserts. I often tell the kids that it’s OK to eat everything, as long as it’s in moderation. We always have something sweet at home, and the children are always welcome to it. But they know (I think) to ration the unhealthy stuff. Well, the dessert tables at the all-inclusive buffets were the prettiest of them all! When I had to choose pictures for this post, I realized that the great majority of our food-pictures were those of desserts. I wonder why…

The result? We all loaded up on the least-healthy items, even when they, too, looked much better than they tasted. That, despite reading all the research about sugar being poison. We simply couldn’t help ourselves!

Last but not least, problem number six: Amidst all that food and all that waste, it was hard not to remember my grandmother’s chastising: “finish your food, because there are children in Africa who have nothing to eat.” The abundance inside the resort juxtaposed with the poverty and scarcity around it. The unfairness of it all was blatant.

In the end, in a rather masochistic way, I was happy to go back home, to my own simple cooking. I can’t help but wonder, though … does this happen to you, too, or am I the only one not able to enjoy too much of a good thing?

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