Restaurant take-out, without the side of guilt

Leftovers without the guilt: My “take-out” kit lets me enjoy resto food more sustainably.

I had a craving for Indian food the other night. Actually, it would be reasonable to say I crave Indian pretty much every night, but that’s a different story. In any case, I found a willing accomplice, and we headed out for chicken tikka masala, saag paneer (that’s mild cheese in a spinach curry) and malai kofta (veggie dumplings in a tomato-based curry). And, of course, rice and naan. It took a bit of work to resist ordering more, but we managed to restrain ourselves. As it was, we had plenty of food left over.

“Would you like some take-out containers?” asked our waiter. And I mentally kicked myself: yet again, I’d forgotten to bring my own.

For years, I’ve been meaning to put together a little “take-out kit” for precisely this kind of situation. I have drawers full of (yes, mostly plastic) food storage. Why not pack up a few containers and have them ready in the car? Then, when faced with the delicious remains of a restaurant meal, I can put the leftovers in containers I wash and reuse, minimizing the amount of plastic and other waste I’m sending to landfill — and my own guilt along the way.

Somewhat diminished, we took the containers to go. The only other choice was to throw away the food, which also seemed tragic. But as my friend and I left the restaurant with our leftovers carefully packed into three disposable white plastic bowls with plastic lids — in a plastic bag — I vowed this would be the last time.

The next day — fuelled by Indian food for breakfast, and lunch — I put together my kit. It wasn’t difficult to assemble. I washed out the disposable containers from the Indian restaurant and used them. I added a couple of Ziploc bags for things like bread, some cutlery (so I don’t have to rely on a restaurant’s plastic offerings if I’m out), a couple of cloth napkins (same idea), a mason jar (for things like soup), a ceramic mug, an old water bottle, and a couple of plates. Everything fits into a reusable cloth bag. Yes, many of the items in my kit are plastic, but they’re all reused and reusable, which meets my goal of cutting down on the demand for new plastic and landfill. Which, in turn, cuts down on my guilt.

I’m going to keep the bag in the car (it’ll fit under one of the back seats) so it’s handy when I’m out. And on the rare occasion I order food for take-out, I’ll try to remember to ask if I can bring my own containers for the restaurant to fill. My local Thai restaurant even gives a discount when customers bring their own.

It’s a small step, but an easy one to take. And without the residual guilt of take-out containers, my Indian leftovers will taste even better.


SUSAN GOLDBERG is a writer based in Thunder Bay, Ontario. Her writing has
appeared in the New York Times, Ms., Toronto Life, Lilith, Today’s Parent, Full Grown People, and Stealing Time magazines,and several anthologies, including Chasing Rainbows: Exploring Gender-Fluid Parenting Practices. She is a regular contributor to several websites, including CBC Parents, and coeditor of the award-winning anthology And Baby Makes More: Known Donors, Queer Parents, and Our Unexpected Families.

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