Since the days of my childhood, eating all the food off of my plate was never a question. I spent more than a couple of hours at my seat after dinner, not excused from the table yet because my plate was still riddled with clumps of rice.
Sometimes it was not that I had a full stomach, unable to eat more. No, I just did not feel like spending more time at the table, as there was a pressing matter of building a city with LEGOs or defeating M. Bison finally. During these times, finishing my food seemed a chore and I was bored of sitting at the dinner table while fun was to be had elsewhere. I think my parents knew this at the time so they kept me at there in my seat—actually I am sure they knew.
But there were other times when I had served myself too much food and unable to eat anymore, I would try to escape. Still, their adamant commands held firm and my hands were chained to my spoon and fork until the food in my stomach had digested enough to hold the remaining scraps on my plate.
I thought it cruel at the time but my dad would tell me horror stories of his attempts to leave the table with food still on his plate. Once, he had somehow managed to scrape the food he did not feel like eating onto the floor. At first, I was impressed but then he went on to tell me how my grandma, my sweet old abuelita, had made my young father scrape the food back on his plate and eat it. “I always finished my food after that,” he told me “so don’t think about doing pulling that kind of a stunt.” And I never did.
My mom had a different outlook on eating food, but to the same effect. Her stories were of how back in her country “all we ate were vegetables and soup” and how “having meat and rice is a privilege.” Guiltily, I would chew the remaining morsels of food I had left alone. Growing weary of her tales, I once asked her if she walked to school uphill both ways in the snow; that night, finishing dinner was not a question because I had none.
In my young mind, I did not understand why they were as stiff-necked about eating my food at the time. What made me eat my food when I was young was the fear of discipline. So there I would sit and despite my perpetual efforts to spread the food thinly over the expanse of my dish, it was eventually scooped together and I was told, “See? There’s one or two spoonfuls left there. Finish your food.”
Finish your food.
It is a statement that still sticks with me today. My parents did more than just get me to eat my food, they taught me not to waste. At buffets or in the cafeteria now, I take small portions instead of piling heaps of food so that although I may take multiple trips to where the soups and salads are, I always eat what is on my plate. In my home still, there are always leftovers from nights before. Even at a restaurant with my friends, I gladly eat their unwanted food to save them from the trash can. Sometimes I force the food down, overfilling my stomach or other times I take their food home, to eat later as leftovers.
I admit, this may seem to be a little bit overindulgent but it is more than that; I cannot and will not let myself waste food—it has become a question of personal integrity now.
Today, I cringe at the sight of wasted food, thrown away by the pound. I do not know the statistics on the amount of food wasted in the world and I do not really want to know because the number must be immense. I am blessed—we are blessed—to have more than three meals a day. And when men, women and children are suffering and dying every day from starvation and malnutrition, I take finishing my food very seriously.