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Picturing a World

Harlequin doggy bags

The reward of blog-crawling on a rainy day was a post on "Harlequin Foods" at Victorian Paris. I knew that "pot-luck" soups were sold by street vendors to the poor, but get this: There was an entire trade in leftovers or rogatons from the kitchens of palaces, noble houses, fine hotels, embassies, and so on. The cook or the footman sold them to a vendor or reseller who came to the back door, and they began a journey of sorting and distribution until they reached a stall in Les Halles, where they might end up on a patchwork plate of mixed scraps more or less artfully arranged. In that form, they were called arlequins, probably because their patchwork appearance resembled the costume of the Commedia dell'arte character, Harlequin.

So why did I put doggy bags in my title"? Well, at the least appetizing end of the chain, some people really did buy days-old, mashed scraps for their dogs or cats—but, as with the euphemism "doggy bag," some of it was probably eaten by the person carrying it away.
The topic is fully covered in a prize-winning essay, "The Emperor's Plate: Marketing Leftovers in Nineteenth-Century Paris" by Harvard faculty member, Janet Bezier, which first appeared in Food & Markets: Proceedings of the Oxford Symposium on Food and Cookery 2014 (Prospect Books, 2015) in pp. 15–34.
On a personal note: In New York City, late one evening after a play, I passed a restaurant where an entire crate of fresh asparagus had been left out with the garbage. How I wished I could take it back to the hotel and then home! How I hope they somehow found their way onto someone else's kitchen or onto a Harlequin plate!


Photo via Wiktionary.

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