, , , ,



Groucho Marx once famously said he wouldn’t want to join a club that would have him as a member.  In truth, there are a lot of clubs where you wouldn’t advertise your membership.  The Hair Club for Men.  Skull and Bones.  The Tony Stewart Fan Club.  The Young Republicans.

Today I’m wondering whether or not I should retain my membership in The Clean Plate Club.

Tracing its roots to World War I, the Clean Plate Club emerged at a time when food was scarce.  Children were encouraged to eat everything on their plate to better understand the value of food.  The Club made a comeback under Harry Truman in the late 1940’s.  Under Harry, the idea was for children to eat less so we could send more food to Europe.

If your household was like mine, you were born into Clean Plate Club membership.  It was not  a choice.  But there were dues to be paid.

Cleaning your plate meant eating foods you liked but also foods you didn’t like. Once you’ve completed the jarred baby food stage (“Let’s see if he’ll eat turnips!”), parents are not going to buy food that they don’t like.  Two of my favorite vegetables today–brussels sprouts and broccoli–never made it into my home growing up.  But we saw a lot of carrots, green beans, and butternut squash.

I didn’t have a big problem with carrots and green beans, but I hated butternut squash.  Cleaning a plate with any squash on it was next to impossible.  You could hold your nose.  You could combine it with something else on the plate, but then something you like becomes less likeable.  There was always ketchup, but, believe it or not, ketchup doesn’t make everything better.  Eventually I was able to negotiate my way into having just a bite of squash.

In more recent times, Clean Plate Club membership has been equated with our obesity problem.  In post-Depression America, kids were encouraged to clean their plates because there wasn’t much on the plate to begin with, and you wanted them to make it to their next meal without starving.

By the time the vegan daughter was growing up, the plates looked a lot different. Finishing all your Kraft macaroni and cheese or chicken tenders and french fries wasn’t hard to do.  In fast food America, you don’t even use plates!

As an adult trying to eat sensibly, it’s easy for me to slip into bad habits. When it comes to pasta or Chinese food, you can count on me to clean my plate twice.  Do you get extra credit for that?   It’s good that I don’t eat pizza alone, because I usually try to limit my intake by monitoring the people around me.

These days, it’s more politically correct to leave something on your plate rather than clean it.  Even if it’s only one bite.  At least it shows you were able to use some restraint.

We’ve also tried making the plate itself smaller.  Eat from a dessert plate rather than a dinner plate.  If you can’t put as much on the plate, you won’t eat as much. But then supper can turn into a buffet when you finish everything on your tiny plate and then head back for more.

It seems to me like we’ve taken Woodrow Wilson’s idea and dumped it on its head. If you put the right things on the plate, it’s probably okay to clean it. Or, if you’re at the point of fullness, you should push the plate away.  Or you could do what I do, and ask yourself, “What would Groucho do?”

Do you belong to the clean plate club?  Please leave a message…