How mistaken I was to think that only in America, land of the monster portions, was food waste a big issue in restaurants.
In Japan, leftovers and food discarded by shops once it's past the freshness date amounts to an annual 5-to-9 million-ton mountain according to numbers quoted by Eriko Arita in Can doggy bags save the world? (Japan Times, March 21).
She got these numbers from Tokyo based non-profit the Doggy Bag Committee which celebrates its first anniversary. It was founded in March 2009.
I don't think Eriko is right as far as Americans are concerned when she traces the origins of the expression 'doggy bag' to the fact that people might be embarrassed asking to take their leftovers home.
It might be true in France where doing that used to mean you had no class.
In Japan, taking leftovers home is not part of the culture so the Doggy Bag Committee (DBC) besides encouraging the practice is also educating both restaurants and customers as to how.
They decided to adopt the English name 'Doggy Bag' as there is no Japanese equivalent.
The Japan Times piece also notes that the DBC does not want to turn efforts in reducing food waste into a landfill problem if people discard 'doggy bags' after use:
A related piece, Doggy bags slowly infiltrate Japanese dining scene (Japan Today), quotes Owner chef Shuichiro Masuya of Osteria Lucca in Hiroo who has been providing reusable boxes since 2008.
He says "that the restaurant’s customers are mostly regulars and happy to take leftovers from the usually large portions" and that “as a professional, I don’t let them take raw food like carpaccio. But if it’s a meat dish, I’ll even hand them a recipe for the next day. I can’t stand watching food wasted,” he says enthusiastically from his experience working in an Italian restaurant in China. Leftovers also cost a recycling fee, Masuya explains, at the contracted rate of 1,000 yen for 10 kg."
The article also notes that "people in this country used to take leftovers home after weddings just a few decades ago".
As my grandfather used to say: clean your plate.
No food waste for Tokyo Thursdays # 132
(*illustration from article on same topic at From Japan with Love)