Clean Plate Club
During a recent call with Sean’s mom, Bridget, after catching up on kids’ accomplishments, anticipated summer travel plans and the like, our conversation turned to the subject of food. Likely I steered it there. Everyone wants to be thinner, fitter and healthier – consume less bread, more water, less wine – including Bridget, including me. During the course of our discussion she remarked that she always leaves some food on her plate; that she tries not to be a member of the Clean Plate Club. When I heard this I nearly laughed out loud. Then I grabbed a pen and wrote it down.
The truth is, I lick my plate. Like, literally. In front of Sean who thinks I’m ridiculous, in front of the kids whom I instruct between licks, “Do as I say, not as I do”, in front of our dog, Scout, whose hard stare on such occassions rivals that of Paddington Bear, and away from any windows. In my defense, I’m thorough. Why I do this should probably be explored in therapy. I like to get to the bottom of things, naturally.
Before you judge too harshly you should know I do have standards. I’m discriminating. I prefer maple syrup and bacon grease, taken together or apart, and occasionally, balsamic dressing. I remain untempted by spaghetti sauce which I don’t often eat and anyway can be easily sopped up with bread. Ditto gravy. When I eat ice cream it’s straight from the carton for two reasons: 1. Transfer could lead to subtle but valuable losses and 2. I avoid bowls as a rule, for obvious reasons.
It’s common knowledge that no sooner does one form a habit then it’s tested. Here’s how it happened. I was microwaving a plate of bacon (a practice inherited from my mother which will necessitate, bare minimum, one session) and, as the savory meat ribbons spun and sizzled inside the radioactive box, a loud bang sounded. I opened the microwave door to investigate and found my plate cracked down its center. A waterfall of grease began sliding through the crack, pooling onto the turn table. This caused something of an existential dilemma. What could be done? All that good bacon grease going to waste. I started to panic. Paralyzed, I turned left, right scanning the kitchen for something to thwart the flow. I momentarily considered spooning it up. I certainly wasn’t going to use a paper towel. I care about the environment. In my indecision the matter was decided for me. This was the dark side of plate-licking. I’d weakened the enamel to such a degree as to destroy it. A grave lesson.
Wait, did you think I was going to lick the turn table?
Fully aware my habit is disgusting, I jumped at the chance to attend a program by the Chardon Library entitled ‘Dining in the Gilded Age’ with hopes the Victorians could teach me a little something, perhaps class. Sadly, my biggest takeaway was that plate-licking is far from being my only offense.
In the late 1800’s eating too fast was considered gluttony and too slow, unappreciative. Sean and I treat meals as if they’re a timed event. Our kids on the other hand, linger over their chicken tenders like Europeans while I repeat ad nauseam such phrases as, “If you’re talking, you’re not chewing.” But let’s be real, they probably are. Once a meal is completed, however quickly, the proper signal is to place your fork and knife or fork and spoon vertically on your plate. Instead Sean pushes his plate toward the center of the table and with the authority of a home plate umpire, blesses it ‘safe.’ Why he does this I’ll never know. I hope to figure it out before our 50th wedding anniversary.
Etiquette also requires that one should “Drink sparingly while eating, as it is far better for digestion, but when you drink, do it gently and easily and do not pour the liquid down your throat.” I’m guessing Queen Victoria wouldn’t think highly of the Nalgene bottle I cart around with me all day from the breakfast table to the floor of the karate studio, to the floor of my car only to resurface at dinner. I drink water like I take medicine, by chugging, three times daily with food. I do so from a transparent, blue-tinted plastic bottle that I wash as many times per year. I’m not thirsty. I don’t necessarily want water. I just don’t want to retain it. Would it help if my right pinky was extended in the air?
If you know me at all you know I love self-improvement and making arbitrary new rules. New rule: Once I finish eating I take hold of my plate and immediately place it on the floor for Scout. I can’t change my mind halfway through as I could stand to lose a finger. Not only is this efficient, it saves water. Still, I draw a viscous brown line when it comes to syrup and it turns out Astrid does, too. It’s a scary thing to see my beautiful, innocent six year old daughter mirroring my bad habits. She is so much like me I’m unsure whether to laugh or cry. Astrid’s hobbies include interior design, baking and indulging an insatiable sweet tooth. At six it’s cute. At 30-whatever it’s a liability.
Last weekend I experienced a major break through. For the first time in I can’t remember how long I left food on my plate. At Mary Yoder’s of all places! Go to Park School. Ask for Brandy. She’ll tell you.
PS. All of this occurs at home. In public I’m quasi-normal.
PPS. I’m seriously considering entry into the pie-eating contest at Old Glory Day this year. I don’t want to have any regrets when I die. I’m going to tell Astrid you have to be 18 to enter.