Jessica Leigh Hester is a former senior associate editor at CityLab, covering environment and culture. Her work also appears in the New Yorker, The Atlantic, New York Times, Modern Farmer, Village Voice, Slate, BBC, NPR, and other outlets.
To reduce food waste, waiters are boxing up leftovers.
Go ahead and shovel those leftover morsels of boeuf bourguignon into le gourmet bag. Earlier this month, the French government issued a call for restaurants to offer diners the option of carting their uneaten portions home.
The practice is so uncommon that it was the basis for a confessional-style column in the newspaper Le Monde back in 2014. The French headline translates to, “I feel ashamed to ask for a ‘doggy bag.’” Respondents dished about the request as though it were an indulgence that they rarely allowed themselves—the etiquette equivalent of devilish chocolate lava cake.
“Some restaurants with truly elegant surroundings intimidate me, and I don’t dare to ask,” wrote one woman. She described a fear of eliciting the side-eye from waiters, and a nagging sense that the practice is gauche: “One feels that it’s not a polite thing to do.” To avoid having to ask for a container for leftovers, one family described bringing their own, and pulling off a stealthy under-the-table maneuver when the servers were out of view.
A 2014 survey found that the vast majority of French people are in favor of leftovers—at least in theory. As many as 70 percent of diners have never taken unconquered meals home with them, according to the website France 24. The site also noted that some restauranteurs view the habit as a “degradation of their dishes.”
Sure, it’s unlikely that French diners are dealing with the magnitude of leftovers that you might encounter at an American greasy spoon. In Paris, for instance, you’d be hard-pressed to find a joint that fries up 11,000 pounds of bacon each week. But the country pitches about 7 million tons of food annually, the Telegraph reported, and hatched a plan to slash food waste in half by 2025. This recommendation could help, assuming that diners do eventually eat their way through the leftovers instead of just eventually chucking the whole bag in the trash.
Please, French eaters: don’t let your delicious coq au vin go moldy in the back corner of your refrigerator.