Why doggy bags won't help our food waste problem

03 March 2012 | 0 Comments

The doggy bag has become something of a cause célèbre, but here's why those demanding we ask for them are barking up the wrong tree.

Print media, TV and radio are currently awash with worthy ‘celebrity chefs’ telling us to clear our plates - ideally into a paper bag. Of course we waste too much food - 400,000 tonnes per year according to UK Government-approved waste reduction agency WRAP. These are clear and immutable facts and we should absolutely take a collective look at how to reduce it, but if fine dining restaurants scraping half a ‘textures of beetroot’ into a box is the way to do so, then I’ll eat half my hat now and half tomorrow for lunch.

Causing a scene

The fury we feel at a dreadful meal dissipates to nothing in the face of ‘Was everything OK for you?’ ‘Yes. Yes, great thanks. Can we just have the bill. Please?’ And it’s the same with doggy bags. We have a mortal fear of causing a scene. The fact that I have never asked for a doggy bag is proof only of my gluttony. If there is food left on my plate then it is inedible and unlikely to become less so tomorrow. If I lived in America with the culture of gargantuan portions then I have no doubt that I would embrace the doggy bag with fervour. But I don’t. And we tend not to serve three meals on one plate.

Mmmmmm… congealed

Pizza, curry, Mexican... yes! There is no better breakfast than cold curry, but tuna tartare? Risotto a la Milanese? A BURGER?! No. Sweet and sour sauce the morning after is an abomination. In short some foodstuffs lend themselves to doggy bags. We all know what they are and frankly I find it inconceivable that anyone is going to start asking Michel Roux Jnr to box up half a cheese soufflé anytime soon.

All down to the staff

In my opinion, the British doggy bag experiment begins and ends with the waiting staff. A chat with Nandos head office reveals that food will be boxed up if a customer asks. A chat with Gordon Ramsey Holdings leads to a promise someone will call me back. They don’t. Award-winning, family-feeding blogger @crumbsfood is a big fan of doggy bags: ‘I’ve asked many times and no one’s ever sniffed or sneered. My husband used to pretend that we had a dog. We don’t.’

The customer asking isn’t good enough though. If this is to work and truly cut waste the staff have to actively ask every customer if they would like to take their leftovers home. Personally I would prefer it if chefs didn’t get all preachy about this kind of thing and just did better portion control.

Furthermore, it’s the crusade bit that bothers me - the quiet assertion that the planet will DIE if you don’t take home your foie gras parfait with cumquat marmalade or peri peri chicken. We are who we are and we do what we do and I’m afraid, celebrity chefs of Britain, the wastage debate is a lot closer to home than making customers ask for doggy bags.

Do you ask for doggy bags in restaurants? If not, why not? Share your thoughts in the Comments section below.

More on the food waste debate

How to make the most of leftovers

Common sense ways to reduce food waste

Why we should all steal from supermarkets

Why best before dates should be abolished

Why food challenges are bad news


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