As I mentioned in my last post, I’m currently studying in Madrid, Spain! The culture is fascinating, the city is incredible, the people are wonderful, and the food is fantastic. In addition to offering delicious dishes such as paella and croquetas, the country’s food culture hinges on generosity and hospitality, best demonstrated by the customs of menus del día and tapas. Tapas are so famous that they probably don’t need explaining, but, just to reiterate: they are small plates of finger food that come free with any purchase of wine or beer in most Spanish bars or eateries. The foods can range from simple figs or pitted olives to croquetas (fried dough balls filled with béchamel, cheese, and/or ham) or patatas bravas (potato wedges in spicy sauce). Tapas are available basically any time after breakfast, whereas menus del día are traditionally lunch specials – though many places offer them at dinner, too, to appeal to tourists who are used to larger dinners than lunches. The menu del día (“menu of the day”) is a three course meal for €10-12 consisting of a starter, main course, dessert, and beverage. In addition to choosing the elements of your meal from a short list of options, you will typically receive bread and, if you ordered alcohol, tapas. All in all, Spain makes it easy to find a satisfying meal for a low price.
The limited-budget college student side of me loves all of the free food that accompanies minimal purchases, but I cringe internally whenever I see a waiter take a way a platter of unfinished or wholly untouched tapas. You have to approach your meals anticipating to consume more than what you actually order, or else there will be a lot of leftovers. While I was happy to see one family doggy-bagging their dinner remnants on my very first night here, I think that taking tapas or bread home is frowned upon as greedy or desperate since the foods are so small and, technically, free. It’s a shame that there seems to be a cultural hypocrisy in this country that celebrates food as a social instrument but in doing so enables a lot of it to go to waste. Solidarity fridges have emerged in some cities to allow individuals and restaurants alike to make unwanted leftovers available to the public, but unfortunately that tends not to include plate waste, aka food that has been served and partially eaten. While I understand all of the health and hygiene arguments against sharing ‘touched’ food, I can’t help being frustrated by it.
I was able to get a little peace of mind from the fact that Spain only wastes 2% of the food it annually produces, according to Eurostat data from 2006. However, the fact that this waste still constitutes over 7,695,000 tonnes of food (44% of which comes from sectors other than households or manufacturing) is disheartening and says something about just how much food Western countries produce. I would also be curious to see data on what percentage of Spain’s annual food waste is solely tapas, but an investigation of that nature seems virtually impossible to administer.