Dinnertime Stories: Clean your plate….

……. “because there are starving children in Africa (China, Bangladesh…anywhere non-western apparently)” is the proverbial rationale for not wasting food. As kids these stories shaped our relationship with our dinner. As parents we perpetuate these relationships. There are certainly alternate stories told to children to finish their food. One story I heard in Bangladesh is that if you don’t finish your food the leftover rice grains will cry and complain to God. Either way wasted food disrespects others. The Bangladeshi story interestingly also suggests that wasting disrespects the food itself.

At my own dinner table, I struggle with the simple story. Why should we finish our plated food? Why not waste? Especially since the “clean your plate” guilt trap has been associated with obesity. Can we really blame hungry children in Africa for obese children in Indiana? Perhaps, starting off with smaller portions is a possible solution. Why pour yourself a whole glass of milk, if you’ll drink a half, why fill your plate with pasta that you will not eat? Why only eat dinner in the hopes of dessert? At restaurants, why do we struggle to finish and then waste the rest? What should be our code of conduct with our dinner?

Every night as I scrape off the wasted food, now garbage, I search for a convincing argument. Sure, each time I scrape, I regret my own misspent time, effort and money. I regret the hungry children in the world. I regret the lost nutritional value. I regret the farmers who labored, the grocery stores, the advertising, the transportation and the whole system of food, now wasted. I regret the lack of grace and gratefulness. Mostly, I regret the careless consumption it represents. I am guilty just as anyone.

I apologize to all the grains of crying rice that I am responsible for. Please share your dinnertime stories below. If  you have a new and improved version, I’d love to hear it!


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