Please don’t feed the animals… or the homeless people…

Sometimes in life, you get lucky. And if you get really lucky, nice people invite you to do nice things – which involve putting on a nice dress, a bit of make-up and eating filet mignon for your breakfast.

Yep, sometimes in life, you get lucky.

A few weeks ago a friend invited me to breakfast at Bogotá’s members-only Gun Club for brunch. I knew it was going to be a good day because I am British and, obviously, I arrived before everyone else (I also got some funny looks on the colectivo at 10.30 on a Sunday morning, which was probably the fault of the nice dress and the, er, make-up) Anyway, I decided to hide in the bathroom until the others arrived, only to be confronted by a powder room, a selection of peppermints in a pretty glass bowl and assorted, immaculate, cosmetics.

That was when I knew it was going to be a nice day.

When I eventually emerged from the bathroom, the others were waiting and together we glided through wood-panelled corridors, past vast bowls of fresh pink roses and a little man playing a harp. There were jaunty stag heads on the walls and an enormous painting of what looked like The Charge of the Light Brigade.

The waiters wore grey suits with dark blue linings and replaced endless arrays of silver cutlery with such deftness, you never had less than three forks beside your gold-plated crockery. There were champagne flutes and chairs gracefully eased out for your arrival. It reminded me of a forgotten, faded yet enduringly elegant corner of above-stairs England.

But you don’t visit for the wood panels, the harps or the antlers. You go to Bogotá Gun Club for breakfast and what a breakfast it is. Besides the filet mignon you’ll find eggs benedict, smoked salmon and sushi. In the ‘egg corner’ there are endless options; the same in the Japanese corner, the pancake corner, the cereal strip, the fruit table, the vegetable table and the ‘Latin corner’ where empanadas fight it out with the best the continent can offer.

The juices, of course, are divine but the pink champagne is better. There’s no point loading your plate, you’re expected to eat four courses. There’s no point making other plans, you’re expected to dine for four hours. You can eat as many hot desserts as you like – think pancakes, crepes and waffles – but you must save room for the cold dessert too – it’s the best corner in the house. Eat like you have never eaten before.

We did our best people, we did our best. Some of us were already on the pecan pie when others were still tucking into the teriyaki. A few managed the mignon, most managed dessert, no-one managed sushi. The fruit table was more beautiful than a Great Master still life, but precious room cannot be wasted on fruit. The chocolate fountain beat everyone down to a single strawberry.

We had a good natter – films, gossip, politics, travel, more gossip – and we attacked that feast with the energy it deserved. But, of course, somewhere between the delicacies of Japan, France and Venezuela combined, I asked the question asked by many a satisfied stomach before me.

What on earth do they do with all the leftovers?

“Well, that’s a funny story,” my lovely friend replied, except it’s not that funny a story really, more a troubling one.

It turns out, under Colombian law, you’re not allowed to give leftovers to people on the streets (and there are people on the streets, of course, I’d almost fallen over a man snoring merrily in the sunshine when I stepped from my bus that morning) But not only are you prevented from giving leftovers to people on the streets, you’re not even allowed to donate leftover food to animals. That’s right, animals.

I found this hard to believe, but rather than wade through Colombian Law looking for “Don’t feed poor people or animals” clauses, I asked some friends who should know – chefs.

My friend Cesar confirmed it, blaming an incident a few years ago when a homeless person was accidentally poisoned by a mouldy hamburger (I tried to locate this news story to no avail, by the way, so please beware the classic Bogotá urban myth)

But it does seem the law, at least, is pretty clear for people who work in the catering trade – leftovers go to waste. Poisonings aside, I’ve seen people eating out of bins in this town. Do you think we’re doing something wrong?

Like this? You’ll love Colombia a comedy of errors.

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7 Comments

  1. Stan

    Hi. You sure are a good writer. I am going to be in Bogota with my family in July. I would like to go to the Gun Club. How can I get an invitation or who could I call? Do you have any ideas? thanks.

  2. Prophet

    like everything in bogota….. If you want to give food to a hobo, JUST DO IT. DONT ASK PERMISSION, colombia is the country of laws . Laws for everything, there are so many laws that nobody knows them all. Most of them are a total waste of time, like most of the things colombians do. So in the case of “prohibition to feed hobos” just ignore the sign and you can indeed give them your empanada.

    BUT dont give money to them ever. They usually change money for bazuco “crack” becasue is cheaper and it suppress the appetite. Only food or soda.

    A few hobos are actors, so bewarned, they are professionals. If you want to help someone poor, you can look at recicladores “trash collectors” or elderly seniors, guys selling stuff in semaforos are also poor people working to deliver food to their homes.

    1. bananaskinflipflops

      Point taken, but the Gun Club is all-you-can-eat so they have the leftovers, I guess a business is more likely to want to obey the law. Especially if it was something they wanted to do regularly and also they wanted to be sure the food was going to the people who need it most.

  3. Carolina

    I’ve noticed is not only in Bogotá, but in the UK aswell. I had the opportuinity to work in Alton, and inside an all you can eat restaurant they had the same policy. They threw every single tray of food away! Just every once in a while the waiters were allowed to have some food, but not allways. I found ridiculous that they preffered to throw everything away when it wasn’t even touched, instead of giving the food to somebody who could be starving…. :S

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