It's the original meme, one of the most popular and prevalent clichés of the late 20th century: "Think of the poor starving children." Recited by frustrated parents and other low-level authoritarians throughout our early lives when we've bitten off more than we can chew or refused to finish our beef stroganoff, this concept has become the single most recited-ad-nauseum mode of telling someone that they need to clean their damn plate, or they're a jerk. There are skeletal babies with distended bellies in Africa being circled by vultures, and you're going to mindlessly lop 35 percent of your dinner into the garbage disposal?
I mean, it's true. Food waste is a massive problem all over the world. Every single year, consumers in the first-world waste an amount of food equivalent to the entire net food production of sub-Saharan Africa. And in the US, we throw out more than a third of our food supply.
So it is a problem worthy of being reminded of from time to time—especially when one in nine people in the world is too undernourished to function normally. Two-thirds of Asia's people and one-fourth of Sub-Saharan Africa's is hungry.
With this in mind, a four-star hotel in Switzerland decided to take measures to make its buffet-goers aware of the fact that their croissants could be in someone's belly instead of a garbage compactor.
At Hotel Monopol in Luzern, approximately 35 percent of guests originate from Asia—primarily China. And according to Shanghaiist, Chinese guests have been singled out for their alleged tendency to load up their plates at the buffet and then ditch them in a far-less-than-cleaned state—and subjected to targeted signs with photos of emaciated children in hopes of instilling a greater sense of guilt. The signs, which are in both English and Chinese, read, "The malnourished children die … and in Switzerland people waste food and throw it away," accompanied by photos of visibly starving African toddlers (Kevin Carter's infamously depressing, suicide-inducing photo is notably present). "For ethical and moral reasons, in Switzerland we do not throw away any food. Please put on your plate only what you do eat. Thank you for your understanding."
And the hotel is apparently not afraid to say that they are talking to you, Chinese people.
The Swiss newspaper Blick spoke with Brigitte Heller, the hotel's head, about the signs, photos of which have been making the rounds in the Chinese media in the past few weeks. But Heller defends the rather awkward (and unappetizing) images, saying that Chinese guests are prone to heaping food on their plates and leaving it behind.
"I received hundreds of e-mails and many letters with exclusively positive reactions, even from China and Japan," Heller told Blick. She also noted that most guests have been responding "positively and openly" to the signs and that food waste has been noticeably reduced since the signs were implemented. "It hurts me in my heart when you have to throw away food," she added, noting that they were not trying to single out Chinese and Thai guests out of disrespect, but out of concern that they were not aware of local customs.
She also says the message is meant to apply to European guests as well.
But the Chinese media is not as pleased with the campaign, especially after some Swiss media sources were quick to blame the signs on the behavior of the "greedy Chinese." Some angry citizens have argued for a boycott of travel to Switzerland.
They should be warned, however: there are lots of other places in the world where if you leave too many biscuits and sausages on your plate, you'll be advised to think, once again, of the poor starving children.
This article originally appeared on VICE US.