Restaurant Leftovers: Is it Wasteful Not to Take Them?

436471804_a355cbfa58_mAre there two types of people: people who take leftovers home from a restaurant and those who don’t? I’d never given the leftover issue much thought, I merely assumed that most people took home a doggie bag when dining out, if they hadn’t been able to finished their meal. Last night I found out I was wrong.

Recently we dined with some of my daughter’s friends, taking them out for a celebratory meal. Two ordered the second most expensive things, something I would not have had the nerve to do at their age, but it didn’t bother me at all until the end of the meal. Neither of the two finished, leaving several ribs behind, but only one kid asked for a box to take the remaining three or four ribs home. When I asked the other kid if he wanted to take his home, he politely said no thanks. Immediately, the wastefulness started to tug at me. There were no homeless people that I recalled seeing near the restaurant, who may be interested in the untouched ribs. I couldn’t let it go.

Of course, there are exceptions to getting a doggie bag, such as food soaked in ketchup by your toddler, food that didn’t taste good, being on vacation without need or a space to store leftovers or of course, sushi. Yet, my whole life I hated leftovers at home – my mom could make a stew last for a week, long past the point where her kids gaged at the thought of another repurposed meal – but I always loved restaurant leftovers. It meant the next day’s lunch had a little excitement to it. No peanut butter and jelly on days old bread for me when there are string beans and sweet and sour chicken from the night before.

As they had been eating, both commented on how good the ribs tasted and how much they enjoyed their meal, meaning it wasn’t a taste or grossness issue. Ribs are something that don’t make an easy school lunch, which could be a reason why he said no, but this was one of those things that stuck with me. I kept thinking about it at home, unable to recall a time when his family took leftovers home.  Some people just don’t take home leftovers, my husband said to me at the end of the night.

I didn’t grow up surrounded by Silicon Valley wealth, which may be why we learned not to waste. Dinner out was special. The nights where my parents splurged by taking us to the Sizzler salad bar were legendary. When we ate out at fancier restaurants, getting to take home a doggie bag – the kind with a dog drawn on the bag – was akin to a favor bag at a birthday party. We eat out far more now than I did as a child, and with portion sizes larger than they were in the 80s, we always come home with leftover food. As a kid, we didn’t get lectures about starving children, but growing up on a tight budget taught us solid lessons about not wasting.

Am I over dramatizing something that most people consider a preference issue? (I realize this is predominantly an American issue, where portion sizes are usually bigger than one should eat during a single meal.)

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