The etiquette of a green doggy bag

February 19, 2011 § Leave a comment

Mr M and I were sitting in The Rivington on Friday evening and the conversation dived off down a surreal path. This is not an unusual occurrence. As good food is a key part of our life, a lot of our discourse is food related, whether it is the banter whilst out grocery shopping, discussions about what the week will hold in the culinary sense or trips down memory lane whilst cooking together. Last Friday’s conversation was however a little more peculiar than usual.

It was triggered by the main courses: sea trout with clams for Mr M; scallops with bacon and wild garlic for me. Half way through the course with the debris from the shellfish piling up I thought aloud: “I wonder what the restaurant does with the shells?” A look of gentle mirth dashed across my husband’s face as he instantly knew where this was going.

I have had this conundrum at home when cooking clams. Do the empty shells go into organic kitchen waste caddy or into the black bag waste…? Unable to decide, I end up washing the shells with detergent and vinegar and find other uses for them.

Due to their size and beauty scallop shells work perfectly as salt holders or mini serving bowls for mayonnaise, tartare sauce or whatever other condiment is being offered with fish. Clam shells look pretty at the bottom of a clear vase where they build up the base for shorter bouquets or are useful for lodging temperamental lily stems into place. They are also an excellent tool in the combat against pesky slugs in the garden. Garden centres sell bags of crushed shells to sprinkle around peas and salad leaves to ward off the slimy pests that can destroy a crop overnight. Why would I waste money on such bags when I have the source product available in the kitchen?

Of course, quantity is the issue: it would take me years of eating linguine e vongole to build up enough shells to protect my pots let alone the planned raised beds. So as I was polishing off my decidedly non-kosher dinner on Friday evening, Mr M watched me muse on how useful it would be to have access to a commercial kitchen’s seafood waste. Imagine what I could do with a vat of clam shells…

My mind then turned to whether it would be polite to ask the manager about the life cycle of the restaurant’s kitchen waste. It is of course not an easy question to phrase without coming across as a complete lunatic.

All joking aside though, as a commercial business the restaurant is probably paying a waste disposal company for every kilo of kitchen refuse it throws out. On that basis, logically, the manager should be delighted with a request from a regular customer to take some of that waste of his hands. I admit, there are some practical issues, like sorting and storing. A busy kitchen is unlikely to want to waste time sorting shells from other left-overs, let alone the inconvenience of rinsing them and having an extra wast disposal bin in an already crowded kitchen.

If a high-volume arrangement is a non-starter, I could at least make do with the shells from my own meal. What is there to stop me asking for a bowl of hot water and lemon – much like any finger bowl – so I can give clams and scallops a preliminary rinse before putting them in a doggy bag to take home? Would the manager be offended? Would he take the view that even though it is environmentally sound, it is not the sort of thing that is done in a nice establishment? Would Mr M be embarrassed or would he just view it with his usual wry smile?

As children we learnt how to hold our cutlery, clean our plates, not talk with our mouth full but somehow the rules of good manners and etiquette have not equipped us for some of the more socio-ethical considerations of today.

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