Brazil. Football, favelas, Copacabana, Christ the Redeemer… I was lucky enough to go to the World Cup in Brazil this year, but despite the many tourist attractions I visited, one of my stand out memories involves a very ordinary margherita pizza.
We watched Brazil play Cameroon in one of Rio’s many restaurant bars, round the corner from our hotel. It had been one of those days where we’d walked about a lot in the heat, trying to cram in as much as possible before the football started, and had built up quite an appetite. Despite having learnt by that point in the holiday that Brazilian portions are on the large size, I recklessly ignored the small pizza in favour of a medium one plus chips. Now I must stress here that I am not one of these tourists who travels halfway round the globe only to eat American stodge every night, instead of trying the local cuisine. However, anyone who has been to South America will know it’s not famous for being veggie friendly. Being a pescatarian went a long way, and there were some amazing dishes on offer (this was my absolute favourite), but there are only so many meals with scales I want to eat in a short time.
When our lunch arrived, we got that sinking feeling of people who instantly know they have ordered way too much. My pizza could have comfortably fed two and the portion of chips a small family. We had at least ninety minutes of football ahead of us, though, so we figured we’d pace ourselves. The game got underway with a rousing rendition of the national anthem from some Brazilian ladies sitting a few tables away from us, along with the usual horn honking and cheering.
During a lull in the game, I happened to look around to see if the café had filled up since we’d arrived. I noticed some of the local police force had cheekily parked their cars up on the pavement nearby and were standing around watching the football. Had they been asked, they’d have no doubt claimed they were just keeping an eye out for any trouble.
Sitting on the street behind the café were a handful of locals, who didn’t have the greatest view of the TV screens, but clearly didn’t own a TV of their own and couldn’t afford to watch in a bar. The scene took me back to Cairo (where I was living during the 2010 World Cup), and the way in which about ten blokes would huddle around a tiny, grainy portable TV set on a stool in the street to watch the football. There’s something great about the way a World Cup brings people together like that.
Brazil won the match 4-1, but I had to admit defeat with my pizza. What I desperately wanted to do was to give my leftovers to one of the people on the street behind me, and had I been in the UK I would have. But I wasn’t sure what the local etiquette was in such a situation and didn’t want to offend anyone. In any case, the waiter was happy to pack up the remaining pizza and who doesn’t love cold pizza for breakfast the next day?!
We hadn’t got very far walking back to our hotel before some of the people on the street outside the café started shouting at us. Not in a threatening way, but like they were trying to tell us something. We checked to see if perhaps our rucksack had come open. Our Portuguese being non-existent, and unable to figure out what they wanted, we kind of just shrugged and continued on. A few hundred yards later, the same thing happened again. Perplexed, we stopped and it dawned on us that the people shouting could see the plastic doggy bag in my hand.
I totally believe in fate, karma or call it what you will. I’d wanted to give away my pizza and suddenly here were some people who were keen to take it off my hands. I was completely overwhelmed by how happy they were when we went over with the food and they started tucking in to the pizza. At that point, I desperately wished I hadn’t been quite so greedy and stuffed my face with as much of the pizza as possible. Seeing such gratitude for and delight at a few slices of margherita was actually quite upsetting.
Unlike me, according to this BBC article, many British people are too embarrassed to ask if they can take away their uneaten food when dining out at restaurants. As with any social change, getting people to re-think their behaviour so they take home their leftovers and eat them later rather than wasting food (and money), is going to involve a slow process of awareness raising and education, but I am optimistic this will eventually happen here in the UK, especially with brilliant campaigns like Too Good To Waste. A pro doggy bag mentality is one attitude I’d be happy for us Brits to adopt from the Americans, who don’t hesitate to take home their leftovers for later.