I had an interesting experience recently at a restaurant.
Since returning to the US, I've regularly found myself unable to eat all of the food I order at a restaurant. I generally eat only half. Not surprising, really, given that I've grown so used to the smaller portions and lack of doggie-bags that proliferate the world beyond US borders.
About a week ago, I went out to dinner with a couple of my friends - unapperent
and his wife - to a very nice restaurant where we each enjoyed a three course meal: appetizer, entree, and dessert. I ate all of the appetizer, but only half of the entree. Midway through the meal, I began to sense that eating much more would result in my being unable to finish the dessert, and I did not want that to happen.
(Dessert was a cherry cake with whipped cream and amaretto.)
So, I turned my utensils parallel to indicate that I was finished, and the waiter immediately approached in an ecstasy of concern. "Are you done?" he asked me. "Was there something wrong with the meal?"
I assured him that the meal was delicious, but that I'd been unable to finish and would he kindly wrap it up for me to take home and finish later. He took the plate and returned in record time with a box. I thought no more of his reaction.
It wasn't until a couple of days later that I discovered how upset he was with me.
Upon opening the box to finish off the leftovers for breakfast one day, I discovered that the waiter had literally thrown the contents of the plate into the box - not even taking care to ensure that everything made it in. I was quite astonished that exercising my right to indicate when I was full would result in such a retaliation. I haven't had someone go off on me for not cleaning my plate since I was eight. Talk about passive-aggressive!
And seriously, talk about unhealthy.
Cleaning one's plate can be a very bad thing to do; particularly if the plate in question is overloaded (as almost all restaurant plates are). I'm not one to argue that the Hollywood standard of beauty is a healthy one. Nor am I one to argue that all people who are technically overweight are so because they overeat. (I know for a fact that that is not true.) But there's no question that many Americans have a serious problem with overeating, and with overeating stuff that isn't good for them. This weird defense of overeating (by a random service professional, no less) was somewhat unsettling to me.
And it got me thinking about the bizarre habit some folks have of inserting themselves into other people's diets. My mother and I dealt with commentary about our food choices all the time when we lived in Paris, and I've grown accustomed to the Japanese tendency to discuss food at length (out of a deep and abiding love rather than anything else), but I was always under the impression that the American protocol was to avoid any reference to the eating habits of others, there being nothing more rude in a polite society.UPDATE
: Apparently, it's not just eating a healthy amount of food that's perceived as problematic. Eating healthy food has recently been deemed a mental disorder by a group of psychiatrists.Healthy food obsession sparks rise in new eating disorder (Guardian UK)