Culture Clash

There’s a fascinating discussion going on over at the Guardian about doggy bags. Or to go boxes, if you will. I wasn’t aware that this was such an incendiary cultural issue, as I had assumed that the desire to take leftovers home is pretty universal, but apparently I’m wrong. It would appear that some UK citizens would rather waste food than be embarrassed by asking for leftovers? British readers, please educate me on this.

The article on the topic isn’t that interesting, except when the author expresses shock and surprise at the thought of being able to get food to go from a good restaurant, as though he’d asked for a unicorn and a brace of dodos and gotten it. What’s fascinating is the comments, where people say that all Americans are fat because of our huge portions, and that only Americans would be as gauche as to have the audacity to request leftovers to go, while others retort that it “must be an age thing” as they “go for an Indian” and get leftovers all the time.

I wouldn’t mind going for an Indian myself, but that’s a separate issue.

What I’m wondering is…why wouldn’t you ask to have your leftovers boxed up? I mean, you did pay for the food, after all, and if the restaurant served more than you could eat, why not take it home? Or why not deliberately over-order for the joy of leftovers in the morning? I don’t see how that would be awkward; I think it’s far worse to leave food behind, knowing that it will be thrown out. And I’ll about roaming into the kitchen in the depths of the night and nibbling on leftovers, personally.

The only time when I won’t ask for food to go is when I didn’t finish it because I thought it was bad. I’m loathe to complain in restaurants unless there’s a serious problem, because usually my dislike is related to a lack of full comprehension of a menu description and therefore it’s my fault, so I’ll just say I “wasn’t feeling very hungry” and leave it at that. But I still feel horribly guilty about leaving perfectly edible food behind.

One commenter in the thread raised the issue of food safety, which conjured up the image of a horrible spectre: a ban on to go boxes in our lawsuit happy culture, where restaurateurs might become mortally afraid of being sued by people who aren’t bright enough to put leftovers in the fridge and heat them thoroughly when they want to eat them. Given our penchant for banning things to protect people from lack of common sense, I fear this may not be very far in our future. Will a doggy bagging black market arise, with brave citizens smuggling tupperware into their favourite restaurants?

The comments also bring up another interesting issue, which is fear of waiters. People really do seem to be terrified of waitstaff. They don’t want to “inconvenience” their waiters, or look stupid, so they don’t ask questions, or they seethe silently about a perceived slight. (And then of course go rant about it somewhere instead of just talking to the manager about it at the time.) It’s funny, because people simultaneously look down on waiters as members of the “service class,” while also fearing their authority, as though asking what a “remoulade” is will cause the waiter to sigh heavily, take out a pistol, and shoot you.

This seems to be the crux of the doggy bag debate. Some people “don’t want to make trouble,” so they will abandon their food on their plates to be thrown out. (Or composted, depending on where you live, and in rare cases sent to a pig farmer who has a deal with the restaurant.) Others, apparently, have no difficulties at all when it comes to making trouble, and we gleefully ask for boxes and pester our waiters in every conceivable way possible, as our God-given right.

The question is…will I ever muster the balls to ask to have someone else’s abandoned food boxed up?