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No Soup for You: The Fight for Leftovers
Apparently, you can't take food home with you

Beef Carpaccio

By: Iman Sheikh

A certain Italian restaurant chain on Queen West serves a well-executed beef carpaccio. Forgivable then, that after a classic case of big eyes, tiny stomach, I wanted to take the rest home to eat while watching The Good Wife.

“Sorry, that’s not possible,” my server said firmly but apologetically.

“Pardon? Why not?” I asked.

“We can’t give you carpaccio to take home as it’s raw beef and you might get sick eating it later,” she explained.

“Ok, well I’m going to eat it in about an hour and I know the risks so why don’t you just go pack it up now?” I said, turning back to my dining companion. The server lingered uncertainly.

“I’m sorry,” she said, “I really can’t do that.”

“Look, I can’t believe I’m having this conversation,” I said, peeved. “Please wrap it up. I’ll sign a waiver if you like.”

The conversation went on for several minutes, ending in exquisite agitation on both sides. I left soon after, snackless and – bad pun alert – with a rotten taste in my mouth. 

As Carrie Bradshaw says, I got to thinking. If taking home raw marinated beef is a health hazard, shouldn’t every sushi delivery place in Toronto enforce the same precautions? Surely raw leftover fish is at least as dangerous as raw beef. So what’s the beef? I’m obviously not going to try to heat up a dish that was served to me cold. I’m not a psycho.

A few weeks later, I was flipping through Toronto Life when I came across a letter from a reader, saying Little Italy eatery Acadia had refused to pack up his $23 leftover entrée. My heart leapt. There were others like me out there, suffering at the hands of carpaccio-Nazis.

Why has this disturbing trend begun? There is no legal reason that I can glean from food safety literature or from calling the manager of said Italian eatery. In fact, a government-sanctioned website named Eat Right Ontario encourages taking home leftover food as a weight management tool. “Enjoy half of your meal now and take the other half home for another meal. You won’t waste any food, and leftovers make a great lunch!” it says.

If a restaurant has a no leftovers policy, they should state it prominently on the menu. No one orders food with the explicit intention of taking it home, so unless you are an anorexic with a recently stapled stomach, you will be able to finish most meals at “nice” restaurants as they are properly proportioned. But if you don’t, what will they do with half a piece of salmon? Reuse it?

Legally, a restaurant cannot refuse you taking your leftover food home. It can only refuse to give you a container for it. So it really depends on how badly you want to commit social suicide – the chef can’t stop you from packing up your own Tupperware or a Ziploc bag. But, God willing, your sense of shame will stop you.

There are some occasions where it is inappropriate ask for leftovers, but more so you don’t look like a fool. For example, don’t ask for a doggy bag at a job interview lunch. Don’t ask for one on a date unless you plan on scoring points by giving it away to a homeless person right after, especially if you don’t know where you’ll end up at after the meal. Plus, sometimes the homeless have a lot of moxie (not to mention delusions of grandeur – I have actually had my offerings from Sassafraz unceremoniously handed back to me), so just don’t bother. Oh, and don’t do it in Paris. It horrifies them apparently. But the French are incomprehensively superior about everything anyway so don’t worry too much about that one.

Isn’t asking for a doggie bag a testament to the skill of the chef? Or is it? Something about the term doggie bag is innately unflattering and needs to be revamped immediately, especially since only Marie Antoinette would actually feed tuna tartare to a dog. Well maybe I would, but only if it really didn’t taste good. And it was someone else’s dog.

Now no one is suggesting that you do something preposterous like ask for a takeout box at a buffet or an all-you-can-eat. Although once, I saw a man on a 2-hour flight ask the flight attendant to pack up his meal to go. And she did it with no question or objection. I have even seen diners ask for their bread and butter to be packed up, and not even soft, tasty bread. It seems like servers have heard it all before, so why worry about looking tacky? It is the fundamental right of every Canadian to be tacky. It is your right to make gross choices, like eating reheated fish with nutella. Go ahead: Indulge in that cold, day-old taste straight from the styrofoam. Over the sink. You shall not be judged.

 ____

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