French law may require restaurants to give leftovers

FRFlagPARIS, France – The right of French citizens to take restaurant leftovers home in a doggy bag could be soon be enshrined in law.

If approved next month, a proposed law to curb food waste would oblige restaurants to supply containers to customers who want to take leftovers home.

“Portion sizes are getting bigger here, and in those cases taking remaining food is probably instinctual,” said Lindsey Tramuta, a food-and-travel American journalist based in Paris who is the author of the guidebook, The New Paris. “I’ve been in lunch joints that have asked me if I wanted to take the rest of my salad, pizza or whatever to go.”

The French government is seeking to cut food waste in half by 2025.

While doggy bags are common in the United States and Asia, where they are considered a compliment to the chef, Europeans often frown on them, considering it gauche to take home uneaten food.

“In Paris and large cities people tend to eat out more, but in the rest of France food is something that is mostly consumed at home,” said sociologist Anne Lhuissier. “We go to the restaurant for special occasions or as a special treat, so taking food home feels bizarre. The feeling was that restaurateurs were not obliged to provide containers for the food.”

The practice is so unusual in this food-obsessed country that the French say “le doggy bag” because it has no counterpart in their language, though the hotel and restaurant industry union UMIH has tried to promote the more chic “le gourmet bag.”

“It’s a smart move,” said Emmanuel Dumas, 36. “If the food is good you won’t have any leftovers. And if you have leftovers, you are still getting what you have paid for!”

Dumas view is increasingly common in France. A government survey recently found that while 70 percent of French people have never taken leftovers home with them but 75 percent of them are open to the idea of doggy bags.

Bérangère Abba, the centrist politician behind the amendment, calls it “a common-sense measure” that will find wide acceptance.

“Most consumer associations and the majority of restaurateurs have welcomed the amendment,” she said, adding that some critics have complained that supplying containers to the public would be an extra burden on restaurateurs.

In the last few years, the country of gourmet food and fine dining has been making huge strides toward tackling the problem of food wastage.

France has banned supermarkets from throwing away unsold food, ordering instead that it must be donated to charities. In 2016, officials mandated that restaurants serving more than 150 customers a day must provide doggy bags for those who requested them. Grassroots initiatives like food sharing apps and community groups that make it easier to donate unwanted food have also helped spread the message across the country.

As a result, last year France clinched the top spot in a survey of 25 countries that waste the least amount of food. But the report also highlighted a curious point: the French only waste 234 pounds of food per person annually, compared with about 430 pounds thrown away every year by each person in the United States, where doggy bags are the norm.

The discrepancy comes from French views on food, said Tramuta. While portions are growing, France still largely lacks supersized meals and retains a culture where slow dining and enjoying good food every day is considered normal, said Tramuta.

“I think the French in general know their limits and order what they can realistically eat, in which case they won’t even need a doggy bag,” she said.

An alternative version of this story can be found in USA Today.
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