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The clean plate club

Ta-Nehisi Coates touches on a subject that's been somewhat controversial in the SuperMegaHousehold in the past.

At any rate, the Festival would have these fancy dinners in the evening where I would sit around with people who were generally worth a gazillion dollars or some such. They were all nice and everything, but subtly--in ways cash can't explain--very, very different from me. For instance, at dinner, no one finished their plate. Many of them went so far as to decline desert, or if they indulged they'd eat half and sip coffee. We are not talking about large plates, or heaping deserts.

For the first couple of nights, I looked at all these rich white people like they'd lost their mind. To my mind they were being wasteful and unappreciative. I was not out the projects but I had--like most of us--come up in a house where you are told to finish your food. By the third night, I started to feel weird. I began to believe that by finishing my dinner and plowing through dessert I was committing a faux pas. No one said any such thing to me. But I just felt like I was sticking out. The next night I came to dinner and only ate half, I nibbled at dessert. I sipped the coffee. By my final dinner, not only had I joined the culture of withholding, I actually felt full and marveled at the fact that I'd ever been any other way.

This was in the span of a week. It was about then that I started to notice that I may well have been the only overweight person in the entire town.

Culture is a set of practices which people adopt to make sense of their environment. I was raised in a house where the memory of going hungry had not faded. I never went hungry, but I was raised around people who'd grown up with that. Moreover, all of my friends and relatives were raised the same way. Everyone I knew for the formative years of my life was raised in the culture of "Finish Your plate." And given the environment our parents had come up in, it made perfect sense.

By fnord12 | December 15, 2011, 12:56 PM | Ummm... Other?


i don't feel that declining dessert and only eating half of the dessert you took are the same things. if you can't finish it, don't take it. that's not wasteful. taking something so you can eat 1 bite of it is.

yes, i think you should clean your plate, but i don't think Coates' situation is a good one for when this rule ought to be in place.

clearly when you have no control over portion size, the rules have to bend. my issue is with people who have control over portion and heap their plate with food only to throw out half of it. or people who have some sort of moral aversion to the concept of leftovers so they throw out everything if it's not finished the first night.