In this all-you-can-eat era, with its supersized, double-dipped, triple-cooked, gut-busting, multi‑coursed, all-the-trimmings expectations, I was delighted to hear a report on BBC Radio 4’s You and Yours last Friday which indicated that perhaps the country of John Knox can save us from our greedy selves.
It’s time for us to get a grip – of the doggy bag, that is.
The report, from Scotland’s Good to Go campaign, outlined an ambition to have doggy bags introduced in all restaurants, in an aim to cut food waste to zero. In Scotland, the equivalent of one in six restaurant meals is thrown out, costing the hospitality sector over £64 million each year. But it doesn’t have to be this way. According to the research, 75 per cent of people said they would like a doggy bag, but 42 per cent admitted to being too embarrassed to ask for one.
It’s been so long since anyone left anything for Mr Manners, he’s actually starved to death.
As a nation, we Britons are shy about drawing attention to ourselves, making a fuss or being seen as demanding. Not so in America, where there has never been any shame in asking for a doggy bag, even in quite high-end places. Of course, that’s possibly because a single serving size in many American restaurants could feed a ravenously hungry football team – immediately after a match that had gone into extra time.
But we need to get over our très raffiné selves.
In the past few decades, British meals have also been subject to portion creep. Our dinner plates have grown so fast, they fool us into thinking we aren’t eating more: the average plate had a diameter of 25cm in the Fifties; now it’s a roomy, pile-it-on 28cm. Soft drinks used to come in tumblers, now they come in buckets. Our grandparents served wine in what to our eyes now look like liqueur glasses; many modern wine glasses easily accommodate a sloshing half a bottle with no problem at all.
This wouldn’t be so bad if we were able simply to eat (and drink) what we wanted and leave the rest, but the “clear your plate” mentality is strong. It’s been so long since anyone left anything for Mr Manners, he’s actually starved to death. Sorry to be the one to break that to you.
A report from the British Heart Foundation from 2013, Portion distortion: How Much Are We Really Eating?, examined the growth in portion sizes since 1993. Supermarket pizza had doubled; ready‑meal shepherd’s pie, muffins and family packs of crisps had increased by half; bagels had gone up by a quarter. We expect more, we get more, and we enter an age when the customer is always fat.
Go to the pub for Sunday lunch, as many of us did over the Easter weekend, and often it’s a case of never mind the quality, feel the heft. Pubs brave enough to offer smaller, higher‑quality meals often suffer at the hands of TripAdvisor, where gluttonous customers go to whinge that while the quality was just about OK, they could still see a centimetre of plate (bringing to mind the old Annie Hall joke: “Boy, the food at this place is really terrible.” “Yeah, I know, and such small portions.”)
As a race, gluttony and scarcity are the global scales we now balance. For our part, perhaps we need to espouse an era of smaller portions, and applaud and give our custom to restaurants that concentrate on quality over quantity.
Until then, embrace the doggy bag – its time has most definitely come.