Market News

 January 05, 2016
Waste not, want not: why French diners are learning to love their leftovers

 The French have never done "le doggy bag''. They eat what is on their restaurant plate or it goes straight in the bin.

Until now, that is. This year, we can expect to see more Gallic diners clutching what is left of their steak-frites in colourful bags as they leave their favourite eaterie, because a law that came into effect on 1 January now forces restaurants to provide containers for uneaten grub as part of a campaign to cut food waste.

"It's nothing short of revolutionary," said Arash Derambarsh, the local councillor who persuaded MPs to pass the law. "The doggy bag is not at all part of our culture, unlike in Anglo-Saxon or Scandinavian countries. We don't like to walk around with food on us. There's a kind of bourgeois shame to taking food home with you.

"But we've been working on this for a year, starting by making people aware of food waste, then informing them. Now it's time to force things, which is where the law comes in.

"I'm sure it will catch on with the younger generation. As soon as people see one or two diners requesting colourful doggy bags, they will be less uptight about it."

An estimated 7.1m tonnes of food is binned in France every year -- 67% by consumers, 15% by restaurants and 11% by shops. The figure across the European Union is 89m tonnes, and worldwide the total is 1.3bn tonnes.

Official figures show that, in 2010, 3.5 million French people were dependent on food handouts from charities. The stubborn economic crisis is believed to have taken the number nearer four million. One of the organisations, Restaurants du Coeur, said it distributed 130m meals in 2014-15 to 950,000 hungry people, including 37,500 babies aged under 18 months.

The doggy bag law was passed by the French parliament as part of a series of health reforms at the end of last year. A law forcing supermarkets to give away unsold food that has reached its sell-by date, prompted by Derambarsh, was submitted separately and unanimously passed in the lower house, the Assemblée Nationale, in December. It is expected to be passed when presented to the upper house, the Sénat, on 13 January.

A recent study by one of France's food agencies found that 95% of those quizzed were ready to ask for a doggy bag, although there is little evidence many actually do. Indeed, there is no recognised French term for "le doggy bag", although hotel and restaurant organisations have been promoting "le gourmet bag" and "la box anti-gaspi" (anti-waste box).

We will know the idea has caught on when the Académie Française, the watchdog of the language of Molière, dreams up an official French alternative.