Excerpt from “A Clean Plate”
All great change in America begins at the dinner table. — Ronald Reagan
My father used to tell me, when I was little and didn’t want to eat my peas, that when I was all grown up and had a house of my own, I could make whatever I wanted for dinner. When I was all grown up, he said, I could even choose not to eat all the food on my plate. But as long as I was living under his roof, I would not be excused from the dinner table until my plate was clean. Clean, as in every last morsel gone, every crumb pressed into my fork and eaten.
We had frequent conflict in this matter. Every other week, some vegetable (brussels sprouts) or main dish (cream chipped beef on toast) would become an oral obstacle for me, and my father and I would find ourselves in a standoff. No matter how widely I dispersed my peas or segregated the mushiest innards of a turkey pot pie to the edges of my plate, he always made me scrape it up and eat it.
“But, why do I have to eat it all?” I would ask.
“Because I said so,” my father answered sternly.
My mother favored a more practical approach. If there was something she was serving for which we didn’t care, she scooped a tiny “no-thank-you-serving” onto the plate. But my mother’s rule-making at the dinner table and elsewhere in our house was a lot like state law is to Federal law: my father’s opinion always took precedence. So, I often remained at the table long after the dishes were cleared, staring at the wrinkles forming on my cold peas, the melted butter hardening on the plate.
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