Doggy Bags for the Hungry

Good food may be more appreciated than a few bucks

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By David Hammond

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  

Posted: August 30th, 2016 1:28 PM

The OPRF Food Pantry is an excellent organization, Paul. They do distribute a lot of food that's donated by local businesses, and we've dropped off surplus food ourselves (one-of-a-kind items are accepted and given away as special treats when folks come in to pick up their regular allotment of groceries).

Ada Johnson Tikkanen  

Posted: August 30th, 2016 11:00 AM

The greatest volunteer organization I ever worked for was the Community Food Bank of Eastern Oklahoma. It's a large, state-of-art facility which has creatively and effectively put a huge dent in hunger in Tulsa. They provide school backpacks filled with food each Friday for kids who may go hungry over the weekend. They stock "pantry stores" through the city, so people in need can go "shopping" for free food without humiliation. But my favorite aspect, where I volunteered, was the industrial kitchen. Each day unused food would come in from restaurants and markets (ie PF Chang rice, Sam's rotisserie chicken, produce from local stores). We'd then take that food, transform it into meals (fried rice, soup, bread pudding...) put it into individual containers and cart it to local shelters and community groups. It's been proven that more people attend their state-mandated meetings when there is food. Wish there was a way we could use that kitchen in River Forest for something like this.

Paul Clark  

Posted: August 30th, 2016 9:48 AM

Oak Park is way ahead of the French -- even without the benefit of a new law or regulation. The Oak Park River Forest Food Pantry collects donations of prepared but unserved food from local grocery stores and hospitals to hand out to its clients., along with the canned goods and fresh fruit and vegetables the pantry provides.

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