Doggie bags symbolize good intentions

Whenever I’m dining out and can’t finish my food, the waitress or waiter will ask if I would like to take it home with me. Not wanting to be wasteful, or at least not wanting to appear to be wasteful, I always say “yes” and greedily scoop the remaining portion of my meal into the doggie bag or white Styrofoam container that’s provided.

Provided I do not pre-forget my leftovers by leaving the container on the table of the restaurant, an act that’s downright irreprehensible (“Can you believe I spent all that money on the meal and then just left the stuff on the table?!”), I take it home and toss it into the fridge, where it remains forgotten until it’s time to track down the origin of the suspicious odor.

Pizza, of course, is the exception to the forgotten leftover rule. In the history of refrigerators, I have never heard of anyone forgetting leftover pizza. Perhaps because as remainder products go, pizza keeps its youthful appearance much longer than the average leftover. While no one else in the household is likely to cop a mouthful of yesterday’s beef stroganoff, there have been plenty of unexplained pizza disappearances.

We all know what will happen to non-pizza leftovers over time, but still we persist in carting them away from restaurants so we can play the home version of benign neglect. Following years of extensive observation, I have three questions:

First, why don’t we just ask our server for a smaller portion so there won’t be leftovers? I know, I know. Because we all want to feel we are getting our money’s worth. And who wants to sound like our now-deceased, fussbudgety grandfather who always embarrassed the family at Denny’s, haggling with the help over lowering the price of liver and onions to accompany his reduced portion request? Whether or not we are cheap, we don’t want to come off as cheap.

Second, why can’t we just be honest with ourselves that the food will just get thrown away later? This would spare our playing the role of middleman and negate the risk of hauling home precariously packed boxes of volatile-to-fabric chow. I speak from experience, referencing the time during a ride home from dinner when I managed to spill onto a dry clean only wool coat the remainder of a Chinese meal that was never going to get gotten around to get eaten, anyway. 

Talk about insane! Which brings me to my third question, which involves intestinal fortitude. Why do we lack the forthrightness to admit the take-home container system isn’t working and to refuse to continue to be a party to it? Apparently, our good intentions and reality part company as soon as we bag or box them.

In reality, no doggie bag leftovers will ever grace my dog’s lips, let alone my own. That means this leftover thing is just a one-act social morality play that’s been running longer than Annie did on Broadway. It may not be as great as it’s been hyped, but who has the guts to face the music?

I have knowledge of only one person, a colleague I lunched with periodically as part of a special regional aging network project. In front of our whole group, this woman actually refused a take-home container, stating she knew she’d just lose track of it anyway, so what was the point? She figured there was no point, either, in later littering a landfill with another unnecessary Styrofoam container.

Wow. Such honesty and pragmatism. But conversation stopped abruptly at the lunch table and those sitting closest to her involuntarily scooted their chairs away. We still speak of her disparagingly for that glaringly honest social faux pas, so foreign that its wisdom was lost in translation.

Unfortunately, self-delusion doesn’t stop at the table. The stench of good intentions permeates areas of our lives beyond our refrigerators, traveling faster than you can say “I was just about to send money to that cause” or “I’ll be sure and volunteer next time.”

Do something with this food for thought other than fridge file and forget it. Challenge yourself to re-heat your leftover good intentions into action before they start to stink.

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