Conscientious Eater: Leaving Food On the Plate

updated Jun 4, 2019
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Glancing through a copy of Michael Pollan’s latest book, Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual, there was one guideline that has really stuck with us: “Leave something on the plate.” At first this seemed like a logical way not to overeat, but then it felt like we’d be wasting food. What do you think?

Most Americans grew up hearing the phrase “Clean your plate!” repeated over and over again, often prefaced by “You can’t leave the table until…” The underlying message we learned was that we were lucky to have all this food, and leaving uneaten bites was both wasteful and disrespectful.

In an interview on Epicurious, Pollan explains that this guideline doesn’t mean leaving half the plate uneaten, but rather just a bite or two. This is a form of self-discipline and a reminder to stop when we’re full – not necessarily when the plate is clean.

My natural response to this is to simply advocate smaller portion sizes, but I also see Pollan’s point. It’s about changing our learned instincts about how to tell when we’re done eating. Instead of paying attention to the plate, the idea is to pay attention to our bodies.

I tried following this advice at a recent meal and was surprised at the gut-reaction I felt staring down at those last few mouthfuls of food. It was so hard not to eat them. I recognized that I wasn’t really hungry anymore, but it just felt so wrong to carry the plate back into the kitchen with just that tiny bit of food still there. Scraping it into the trash was even worse. I felt so guilty and wasteful, I could hardly bear it.

This experiment made me really aware of all the learned behaviors and food-related emotions that many of us are probably acting out without realizing it. Moving to smaller portions is good practice too, but wouldn’t necessarily make us deal with some of these underlying issues.

What are your thoughts on all of this?

Get The BookFood Rules: An Eater’s Manual by Michael Pollan, $5 on
Read the Full Interview on EpicuriousAn Epicurious Q&A with Michael Pollan

Related: Conscientious Cook: What Should You Buy Organic?

(Image: Flickr member wickenden licensed under Creative Commons)