07/07/2008 01:24 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Is Gordon Brown Your Mother?

Gordon Brown is telling Britons what mothers all over America tell their children -- at least they used to: clean your plate. There are children starving in [suffering nation du jour].

Your mother was right then, and she's right now. And so is Brown. You can't go wrong copying Mum.

Brown is already a dour character, a former Chancellor of the Exchequer, the man in charge of the national piggy bank. It's no surprise that he would put on the Jimmy Carter-in-a-sweater role, shake an admonitory finger, and tell people to conserve, to save, to cut back and stop waste. This, after a government study found that the average British household throws out about $15 worth of food every week. I wonder what that figure would be in this country?

Brown may sound like an alarmist scold now, but he may wind up as a kind of Cassandra of consumption. In the United States, we waste grotesque, vulgar, unspeakable amounts of food. We don't think we're getting our money's worth at a restaurant until the super-sized plate is piled up like Pike's Peak. If we eat all that food, we aren't doing ourselves any favors, and if we don't eat it all, we aren't doing the world any favors. In some restaurants I see more food go back to the kitchen -- and presumably the garbage -- than was eaten by diners.

I grew up hearing my relatives' harrowing accounts of growing up during the Depression, so the idea that an untouched bread loaf -- or one with just one slice taken -- would be thrown out is so offensive that I'm pretty shameless about asking for doggie bags, not only for my own food, but for that of my fellow diners'. Sometimes I deliver it to a regular clutch of homeless folks near my office downtown.

When I've asked for a doggie bag at restaurants in Britain, I get the eye-rolling "Oh, you Americans'' treatment. Maybe that'll change abroad, if Brown is able to persuade people that this battle against waste is just as important as the one Britons waged so admirably and successfully during World War II. I wonder whether any presidential candidate -- or any ranking politician -- would have the gumption to ask the same of Americans?

Alas, virtuous as it is, the prime minister's campaign against wasting food is a victim of unfortunate timing; he launched it en route to the G8 summit in Hokkaido, where he was served a gala eight-course banquet of 18 different dishes. And I don't think he asked for a doggie bag.