We go out to eat several times a week. Because I’m always looking for foods (ingredients, preparations, etc.) that I can write about, we tend to over-order so that we get a broad sampling of a lot of dishes. That means we hardly ever can finish everything on the table. We always take a doggy bag and because we almost always take public transportation, we can be assured that on the way home, we’ll always run into folks who might not be able to remember when they last had some decent chow.

Last week, returning from dinner, we had maybe two pounds of uneaten food, good stuff, meat, vegetables, not all gnawed apart but in pretty good shape, basically untouched and all packed neatly into carryout containers by the wait staff, who portioned it into three bags. Changing from the Red Line to the Green Line at State and Lake, we ran into a street guy, one of the usual fellas who sit at busy intersections, sometimes with cardboard signs, hand-lettered to explain their plight. Carolyn handed the man a bag of food. His eyes got big. A friend of his came over, and we gave him a bag. “Hey, Jimmy’s coming, too,” the guy said as another man appeared from the crowd, backpack on his shoulder. We gave him the third bag.

The men looked at us and said, “Thank you. Thank you, god bless you.” Overall, this seems like a much more personal exchange than just peeling off a few bucks and walking on. No one’s saying this is a magnificent gesture of humanitarianism: giving away food we in all honesty don’t need is not a major sacrifice in any sense. Still, as we moved up the El train stairs over State Street, we saw the guys pouring over the food. They looked happy and we felt good.

Last year, the forward-looking French made it a law that grocery stores would no longer be allowed to throw away edible food; it now has to be donated to those in need. [http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2015/05/22/france-food-waste-grocery-stores_n_7422090.html]. Worldwide, about one-third of food goes uneaten. Giving away doggy bags seems like an easy way to redress, in whatever small way possible, that wastefulness.

So when you’re out to eat, and you haven’t finished all your food, consider having it wrapped up to go; then eat it yourself or, perhaps better, give it away to someone who hasn’t eaten well in a while.

POSTSCRIPT: I’m walking along Michigan Avenue by the Water Tower around 9pm last Friday night. A family of four clean-cut tourist-types walk by a street guy (sitting on the sidewalk, with a sign explaining his sadness); the dad stops and hands him a box, which the street guy opens and looks into. He says, “I hate pizza.” Walking away, the dad notices me noticing the interaction and says, “I was just trying to show the kids something.” No doubt, he did. “Maybe the guy just gets a lot of pizza,” I offered, which I suspect he probably does.

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David Hammond

David Hammond, a corporate communications consultant and food journalist living in Oak Park, Illinois, is a founder and moderator of LTHForum.com, the 8,500 member Chicago-based culinary chat site. David...

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