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The Clean Plate Club At Parties

I dislike foods that come with mold, and bleu cheese is one of my strongest dislikes. Some years ago when my first husband was in the Navy I was invited to attend a luncheon with a group of officer’s wives. One of the chief party snacks consisted of bleu cheese on crackers — a large amount of bleu cheese heaped on some kind of large gourmet crackers. To be polite, I took a few of the horrible things and chowed down, pretending I liked them. I was patting myself on the back for being such an obliging guest when the hostess, seeing my snack plate was empty, reached over and plopped two more of those gigantic crackers onto it! I could have cried, but I manned up and ate those as well. This time, however, I realized what I had done wrong, and left half of the last cracker on the plate to indicate I was full. No “clean plate club” for me any more! If I’m invited somewhere and I dislike the food they serve, I’ll leave a bit left on my mostly clean (and mannerly) plate.

{ 64 comments… add one }
  • Asharah December 29, 2011, 1:20 pm

    I remember a story of a man who, wanting to be nice to his brothers new bride, made a big compliment about her (awful) appetizers. She was so flattered, she made a point of serving the same (awful) appetizer to him EVERY TIME he ate at their house for the next twenty years.
    I also remember an episode of “Joanie Loves Chachi” where Chachi’s mom taught Joanie how to cook Chachi’s favorite shrimp dish. It tasted awful, but he choked it down and lavished her with compliments like a good boyfriend, only to wind up in the hospital with food poisoning. Apparently it tasted to awful because the shrimp was spoiled.

  • Emmy December 29, 2011, 3:31 pm

    Just saying “no, thank you” when offered is good enough. I don’t think it is necessary to announce that you don’t care for a certain food. Nobody is required to choke down food they don’t like in order to be polite. A person can simply refuse the food in a polite manner.

    It was rude of the hostess to put more crackers on the OP’s plate. The hostess would have been fine simply offering more of the appetizers, but actually putting them on the plate put the OP in an uncomfortable position where she felt compelled to eat them. Even if a person loved and ate all their food, they may be full and simply not care for more. Putting food on somebody’s plate (or insisting the take some/more) is very invasive.

  • Mary December 29, 2011, 4:20 pm

    I realize it’s a slightly different situation because it’s my husband, but he knows to be completely honest anytime I make a new dish. He knows he if says he likes it, I will be making it again!

  • Elizabeth December 30, 2011, 9:24 am

    Perhaps this letter is categorized as Grow a Spine? This letter writer isn’t asking for advice; it seems to be self-congratulatory instead. I’ll offer advice since that is what we’re here for:

    Let’s assume the hostess had the best of intentions but placing food on the guest’s plate was rude. The recipient is not then compelled to accommodate the rudeness. Two suggestions: hold up a hand in a ‘stop’ fashion and brightly say “No thanks; I’ve had plenty” OR simply smile and nod as the food is placed on the plate, carry the plate and make casual conversation, then put the plate down with the discarded dishes.

  • Enna January 1, 2012, 6:51 am

    @ Soph I’m a vegitarain too and have watched my firends cook me food, I have politely pointed out to them that they can’t use the same spoon to stir meat food and veggie food. It was bad of the host to have put ANY food whether it is meat or veggie on a plate that was used for raw meat and had blood on it. That is unhygenic. When I have cooked meat for meat-eating people I am ever so careful that 1) the meat is in date 2) I cook it properly 3) I NEVER put cooked meat on a plate which has had raw meat on it. My mum’s vegetarain cousin was actually quite ill when her mother had re-used a bowl which had raw meat in it to prepare veggie food.

    You were polite maybe the host just made an honest mistake e.g. the host was busy doing cooking and just didn’t think and would have put any food on that plate. However there is a danger that if you don’t say anything then the host might do it again. Depending on how well you know the host or how close you are you could try having a little word with her that you noticed that last time there was blood on the plate. Some groups such as people wilth allergies, low immunne systems, heart problems and the elderly and pregnant women need to take extra care about what they eat so pointing it out to her politely is fine I think. Or next time what you could do is help her prepare the food and then make sure there is a clean plate for all the food meat and veggie.

  • Enna January 1, 2012, 6:54 am

    P.S I think the OP shouldn’t have taken any of the blue cheese if she didn’t like it. It was rude for the hostess to just put some more on the OP’s plate she should have offered and it is fine to refuse food if you are full. The danger by eating food that you don’t like is that people think that you do like it and may produce it more often.

  • Lili January 1, 2012, 12:01 pm

    I don’t think that it is so much rudeness as a matter of conflicting cultural norms on the hostess’ part. I took a class about International Manners and Mores at my college recently and this very issue was discussed. Some places see an empty plate as a sign that a person is finished with eating, while other cultures see it as an indication that more food is needed/expected. It’s cultural background that determines which course of action would be seen as more impolite: refusing the food or continuing to eat.

  • kelly January 2, 2012, 11:47 am

    Where I come from it is considered rude to empty your plate. One should leave a small amount to let your host know you liked the food and were given just enough, not too much nor too little.

  • Enna January 2, 2012, 2:53 pm

    @ Lili you make a very good point about culture.

  • Margo January 3, 2012, 9:28 am

    I agree that there was no need for OP to take any blue cheese crackers at all, as it seems that these were canapes. It would not have been rude to say ‘no thank you’ if they were offered and if pressed to follow that up with ‘I don’t care for blue cheese’.

    I think it gets slightly trickier when you have a plated meal, or where there is only one option for a specific course, as turning down a meal (or a course) is likely to be awkward.

    I think in those situations the polite course of action (unless you have a allergy or are genuinely unable to eat the item concerned) is to try to eat a small amount. If you don’t, then the host is likely to feel uncomfortable and that they are obligated to try to provide something different.

    When someone has gone to the trouble of making a meal for you I do think it is rude to not eat any of it, unless you have very good reason. Eating a bit of something you don’t care for is something which most of us, as adults, should be able to do. Of course, if there is more than one option, or if the item you don’t like is something which is not central to the meal (a particular vegetable or side dish, or type of sauce) it’s not rude to pass, and I think if the thing you don’t like is the dessert it’s easier to decline (if pressed, you can always say that it looks delicious, but you can’t eat another bite…)

    Obviously this depends on how strong your aversion is, (my dad, for instance, can’t eat raw tomato – it isn’t that he dislikes it, but something to do with the combination of texture & flavour triggers his gag reflex)

  • Calli Arcale January 3, 2012, 12:24 pm

    This may be a cultural thing. The Clean Plate Club is a big deal among many Americans, especially those of an older generation, but it can run into a major challenge if you encounter Asians (and probably quite a few other cultures which still have a strong emphasis on hospitality). In such cultures, hospitality is a matter of honor; if you do not show adequate hospitality to your guests, you risk severe dishonor. Consequently, hosts will cook magnificent feasts for their guests, and it is a point of honor never to allow the guest’s plate to become clean. The intention is to feed you until you literally cannot physically eat any more. If you get full early, that saves them money (because even desperately poor families will attempt to feed their guests lavishly), but if you get full suspiciously early, they may realize you don’t like the food or feel sorry for them and are in any case refusing their hospitality — a grave dishonor. So the Clean Plate Club is an interesting thing in Asia! It becomes a contest to see whose etiquette will win — the guest trying to honor the host by eating everything, or the host trying to honor the guest by exceeding the guests’s capacity!

  • Liz January 3, 2012, 3:18 pm

    She dumped two more on your plate without asking?? Are you five years old?? Rude!!

  • Alwin April 13, 2012, 10:21 am

    I love cooking but what I love more is for my guests to be completely honest with me (to the point of being blunt and just telling me it’s horrible – which only happened twice in the last 20 years – and it was truly horrible) and I would hate to think someone was eating against their will or tastes. Please just let me know you don’t like it and I’ll fix you something else.

  • NostalgicGal September 9, 2014, 1:31 am

    Since this one was opened; my diet and allergies have changed radically. I have always tried to be respectful of what others can or choose to eat; as I had many rounds of others trying to force me to eat things I detested or were allergic to. I have some strange allergies, some from small childhood, and some are in the range of if I swallow it I will bend over and horf it up within a minute; to being laid out wishing I was dead for three days with gut knots and not being able to keep water in me.

    My allergies and diet restrictions are so severe now that I almost can’t eat in a restaurant. I am used to telling friends and club members (when I am in group and they choose to eat out) to pick what they want for the place to eat and I’ll cope. I have sat there and paid for catered meals that I had to have packed up and taken home to feed to my DH; I have been the hostess and taken my turn bringing in food and not gotten to eat with the others (serve and be gracious, sit with a glass of water and watch them eat my delicious prime rib meal), and so on.

    If I know I have guests that have diet restrictions (kosher, halal, vegan, vegetarian; medical…) I will make sure to have something they can eat. And prepared properly. If you are at my little fest, I might have a half plateful of something, have the serving tongs in hand, and politely ASK if you want some more. You don’t have to. Ever. If you need to know if there’s something in it you can’t have or detest, if you ask I will tell you.

    If I don’t want it I won’t take it, I will decline politely. Someone plopping something onto my plate without asking, I will say ‘I’m sorry, but I am full; I was taking my plate away’ and HAND IT TO THE PLOPPER. They can deal with it.

    The original situation: don’t take it if you hate it. I’d rather politely decline than eat it. Someone drops unwanted food on your plate, be polite and give the plate to them. Hit the fast food place later if you have to. Just don’t take a big helping then don’t eat it. If you took it, eat it unless you find out it’s one of your allergens. My other peeve is buffet scoopers (whether at event, wedding, etc; or in a buffet restaurant) that take lots then don’t eat it.

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