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A new 'Clean Plate' for families during holiday season
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A 1944 "Clean Plate" campaign encouraged chidlren to support war efforts by eating every last crumb at mealtime. In preparation for Thanksgiving 70 years later, it's not a bad idea to revitalize the idea of cleaning our plates and not wasting food. - photo by Stacie Duce
Seventy years ago, American families were preparing for a very different kind of Thanksgiving holiday with soldiers abroad fighting a world war. In 1944, even the children were encouraged to support the war effort with a new Clean Plate Campaign. After researching some of the messages broadcast over the radio by the War Food Administration back then, I now have a little better understanding of why my saintly Grandma Lloyd asked so sincerely if I really was finished eating when my plate wasnt entirely clean. Now, I am a little less likely to roll my eyes when my mother-in-law still only fills glasses one-third full and scoops bite-size portions to my children with promises of second helpings when their plates are clean.

In 1944, War Food Administrator Marvin Jones proclaimed:

Food is as important as any other war material.

In America, we have been wasting at least 20 percent of all the food produced in this country enough to feed the combined population of Greece, Czechoslovakia, Norway and Belgium. (That was 1944 a 2012 Natural Resources Defense Council report says were up to 40 percent).

If each person in the United States wastes only one slice of bread a week the total would amount to 2 million loaves of bread each week. If each person had saved only one-half ounce of butter per week, it would have furnished enough butter to have supplied our entire Army last year.

Jones also told the story of meeting with a Russian general who fought at Stalingrad. He told me some amazing stories about that historic battle, Jones said. But to me, one of the most significant things he said was that the Germans in their retreat abandoned huge stores of munitions of every sort, great fields of tanks and trucks, enormous supplies of oil and equipment of every kind except food. They never abandon food.

Jones passionate message over the airwaves recruited American children to be a patriot by eating down to the last crumb habits that lasted a lifetime. His admonition turned into a formal campaign in 1944. He said, In some cities, Clean Plate Clubs have been established which pledge their members to clean up their plates at every meal.

Seventy years later, it may not be such a social ill to leave a little food on our plates, especially because serving sizes and caloric intake could use some serious reductions. That same 2012 report said most Americans eat two to eight times the suggested serving at every meal and that the size of our dinner plates have stretched 36 percent since 1960.

So what can we do this holiday season to keep grandma happy, yet not become a glutton?

Use smaller plates

Prepare one less side dish for Thanksgiving that would never get eaten entirely.

Actually reheat and eat Turkey Day leftovers instead of storing them for a few days and then throwing them out.

And for heavens sake, be grateful for our bounteous access to food.

Thinking back to my childhood, Americas Clean Plate Campaign might have had the opposite long-lasting effect on my grandparents from the other side of the family tree. Grandpa was a three-war veteran who loved his retirement perk of shopping at the commissary at Hill Air Force Base. He brought home carloads of food they would never be able to eat and invited me to shop in his cupboards when I was a college student. It seemed he and Grandma loved the sight of fresh oranges on the table so much that they didnt mind if they were never eaten and eventually tossed. Grandma always prepared a mountainous green salad for every meal that hardly received a dent after dinner with a dozen guests. They were as generous with food as they were with their love.

As Im raising my own family, I find myself somewhere in the theoretical middle storing food that we actually eat on a regular basis, finding creative ways to recycle leftovers and not hounding my kids to eat every crumb because scraps can always go to the pet goat outside.

Most of all, I dont want food to be connected with fear or guilt. My hope is that gratitude and moderation will be the best motivators to clean our plates.
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