Good afternoon, kids. Thank you for joining me in the living room. I’ve called you here regarding business related to the Clean Plate Club. As you know, your status as members in good standing is subject to occasional review. After careful consideration, the Executive Committee has made the decision to suspend your membership for a period of three weeks. During this time, you will bear the moral responsibility for starving children in the developing nation of your choice. If you wish to appeal this decision, please keep your arguments relevant to the evidence presented below. Each of the below documents an instance when I, your loving father, have delayed the achievement of reaching my target weight to ensure that food you requested does not go to waste.
Just the fried rice part of chicken fried rice
Your mother and I wanted to try a pho place we heard about from one of her coworkers. We weren’t sure about going, since chicken fried rice was the only thing on the menu you’d eat. You overheard us and said, absolutely, you’d eat chicken fried rice, you love chicken fried rice, please can I eat chicken fried rice? So we went. The pho was good. The chicken fried rice wasn’t the right kind, though. You said it was weird. You ate the chicken and the bits of egg. But we had to pick each grain of rice off first. It was late, and you got cranky. After the waiter took my credit card, I shoveled heaping spoonfuls of fried rice into my mouth, swallowing without chewing. I got that weird burning sensation in the middle of my chest, like maybe I wasn’t going to be able to keep it down. I burped. Then I felt better.
Half of a partially stale hot dog bun
No one gets hot dogs here. That’s what I tried to tell you. It’s a sandwich place. They make sandwiches. I don’t even know why they have hot dogs on the menu. I warned you the hot dog might not taste very good. I suggested a turkey sandwich, but you countered by throwing yourself on the floor, your face a twisted rictus of rage. Fine. Hot dog. When you picked the hot dog up from the plate, the stale bun split down the bottom and the hot dog slipped out of your hands. You started crying because you thought the hot dog was ruined. I held the whole mess and fed you bites, but you got tired of that halfway through. You finished the hot dog itself. The rest of the bun was just sitting there, dented and misshapen. I crunched my way through it while I stared out the window at the parking lot.
Most of a snack sized bag of Cheetos
You needed to pee because we were driving for a long time. The car needed gas, too. You and your mom went into the gas station while I filled up. Inside, you saw the bags of snacks and realized you were hungry. You picked Cheetos. So delicious. One of my favorite snacks. Dusty and crunchy and what are they even? No one knows. Back in the car, you ate them slowly, one after another, as a mouse nibbles a cracker, sitting directly behind me. Then you stopped. You didn’t want anymore, offered the rest to me. A miracle! Those Cheetos gave me life! You fell asleep and woke up hungry. Where are my Cheetos? In my belly. The wail of a million lost souls, screaming in unison. I drove on.
Half of a cheeseburger
You said you’re too big for a kids’ menu. You wanted more than four choices to choose from. The place was a little pricier than we would have liked, but nothing else was open. You decided you wanted a cheeseburger. There was a cheeseburger on the kid’s menu, but you didn’t want that one. You spoke your order to the waitress. Very proud of yourself. Grown-up cheese burger with mustard, ketchup, pickles, and cheese. Don’t forget the cheese! The plate was huge, big enough for you to sit on. It was mostly full of fries. You ate them all. The cheeseburger grew cold and congealed. It’s too big, you said. I reached over and picked it up from your plate. It tasted like half of a cold 12-dollar burger.
The inner ring of a bagel with cream cheese
You woke up before 7 because it was the weekend. Bagels! you shouted. I had my eyes closed, but I wasn’t asleep. You leaned over my face and whispered, Bagels! I got up and pulled on dirty jeans. It was cloudy and gloomy outside. Your mom was warm in bed. We walked to the bakery down the street and got fresh bagels. You ran ahead on the way home, practicing your superhero moves. I toasted your bagel first. Then I made the others. I was about to carry my plate to the table, when you brought yours to the kitchen. It contained two bagels, the outer edge of both eaten away, the inner ring intact, soggy crescent-moon bites shaping the new perimeter. I only like the outside part, you said. I slid yours onto my plate.
Three and 3/4 chicken nuggets
Your mom and I wanted to try a vegetarian thing I found in a cookbook. Something with coriander and cumin and bay leaves and lima beans, which I know you hate. I asked what I should make for you. I listed all the options. There were seven of them. You chose chicken nuggets. I shook them out of the box and heated them up for you. At the table, you decided you didn’t like the breading, so you began picking it off. You did this with three and 1/4 nuggets. After that, you gave up. I ate the rest one at a time, as I loaded the dishwasher. In the other room, I heard you complaining to your mom that you were hungry.
Melted frozen yogurt with drowned gummy bears
You wanted a playdate with your friend who was moving away. A trip to the park seemed like a good idea. It was sunny and warm, and the two of you played tag and climbed trees. We walked across the street to the pizza place. There was one of those frozen-yogurt-by-the-ounce places next door. You wheedled and begged, and your friend did too, and I wanted to be the cool dad who buys a treat for his kid and her friend who is moving away. You chose chocolate yogurt and picked brownie bits and gummy bears to put on it. I tried to change your mind. The gummies are always hard and stale, I said. You insisted. Then you laughed and chatted with your friend while the grainy frozen yogurt melted. Sure, we’ll go back to the park in just a second, I said later. Lemme put these bears out of their misery first.
Cheese quesadilla triangles that touched the ranch dressing
You asked for a quesadilla. Everyone else wanted tacos, but not you. I warmed the big cast iron griddle slowly, letting the shredded cheese melt without turning the tortilla crispy on the bottom. I know you like it chewy and soft. When it was done cooking, I cut it into triangles on your plate. I put some spinach leaves there, too. I know you like those — but only with ranch dressing. If only I’d poured more carefully. Alas, the dressing spread on the plate, contaminating two of your warm, melty triangles. Cry all you want, little buddy. Make your own dang quesadilla next time.
The picture frame of a grilled cheese sandwich
We had the right bread, the kind without oats on the top. We had the right cheese, the kind that isn’t cheese. I used butter in the pan. The bread was golden brown, and the cheese was gooey. I cut the sandwich diagonally, the way you like, and called you from your room. You came and sat and ate and hummed to yourself while I made an intricate salad. I’ve noticed that the more ingredients a salad has, the less I feel like frowning as I eat it. Ten is a good number of ingredients. I sat down next to you and noticed that you’d left an inch-wide margin of bread along the edges of your sandwich. I don’t like the crusts, you said. Where does the crust end and the bread begin? It’s a question philosophers will debate until the end of time.
A muffin stump
I needed a cup of coffee. It was one of those days. Too many hours left before your bedtime, too few ideas left about how to spend them. We walked to a cafe near the park. I had granola bars, pretzels and peanuts in my bag. But you wanted a special snack. You looked through the glass, putting your hands on it, wiping your fingers across its curved surface. Leaned your forehead on it. I want a muffin, you said. Chocolate chip! I wasn’t sure. It was pretty big. You were sooooooo hungry. At the table, you bit into the very top of it, the peak, like a person who’s never eaten a muffin before. You worked your way around the rest of the top slowly. At least we were ticking off one of those hours. When you reached the paper, you threw in the towel. I’m not sure of the physics involved in baking, but somehow, there were no chocolate chips in the stump of that muffin. No one enjoys eating a dry stump.
Drummies with two bites missing from the meatiest part
It was the first week of warm evenings in the summer. Light enough late enough to play backyard family baseball after dinner. But dinner first. I put thick, sweet sauce on the drumsticks and loaded wood into the smoker. Next the chicken, billowing fragrant smoke into the yard. What’s for dinner, you asked. Drummies! Yay, I love drummies! You went back to playing in the dirt. I boiled macaroni from a box, sauteed some broccoli, turned the drummies every so often. One of the cats was standing with her paws on the screen door, sniffing the patio. I gave you three drummies. You wanted the skin and the sauce scraped off. Then you took little bites out of the best part of each of them. Back outside, you were swinging your bat, demanding my first pitch. Hold on, I said, as I gnawed through the gristle of your plain, lukewarm drummies.
Slice of birthday cake with the icing licked off
I didn’t know anybody at the party. It was for a girl in your class. I should have just dropped you off, but I lingered, and it felt awkward to leave 30 minutes later, like maybe I was judging the party’s entertainment value and found it lacking. Who’s that jerk that walked out of my kid’s birthday party?, I imagined the hostess thinking. So I sat in the corner for a while and then walked over to you, but you looked at me in a way that said, what the hell are you doing, Dad?, Get away from me. I went back to the corner. After they cut the cake, you brought your slice to me. I was finishing my own slice, which I didn’t want but didn’t know how to turn down. Your slice lacked icing. That was the only part you liked. You left the rest with me. I ate it and carried both festive paper plates to the trash can. Who’s that guy that ate seconds of my kid’s birthday cake?, I imagined the hostess thinking.
Half a box of sticky raisins left in a hot car
Before we left the house, I asked what kind of snacks you wanted to bring on the hike. You were going through a raisin phase. You asked for raisins. On the drive to the trailhead, you declared your hunger. I offered you some raisins, and you ate them one at a time. We parked before you could finish. On the hike, you would only eat granola bars and trail mix, the snacks I’d packed for myself. Back at the car, sweaty and sore-footed, I opened the back door for you and spied the forgotten box of raisins. Its contents were fused together into a warm ball. I put the whole thing in my mouth and chewed for two minutes before it all went down.
Brown banana from the bottom of a backpack
That morning, you told me at the last minute you needed a snack. You said you got hungry in the afternoon because your lunch period was before lunchtime. There wasn’t much in the kitchen to offer. A banana was the best I could do, but you seemed happy with it. It was dull yellow, not too firm. A good one. I met you after school, and you tossed your backpack onto the hot asphalt at my feet and ran across the playground to play with your friends down by the corner of the fence. After an hour, I called you over and we walked home. I checked your backpack for notes from school and found the banana there, looking like a Gettysburg corpse. When I peeled it, the flesh was translucent in places and sickly sweet.
Soggy pieces of off-brand toaster waffles
I let you sleep late because you’d been up late, but we had to leave the house on time, and so I had to wake you up. The first thing you said was, I’m hungry. I put two waffles in the toaster. You got dressed. Your sister was taking too long in the bathroom, and so you yelled at her through the door. I reminded you of the bathroom downstairs. When you came back up, your waffles were on a plate. They were whole with butter on top, just like you like them. While you ate, I roused your sister from her room. She was busy staring into space. It was time to go. I looked at your plate and saw that you’d torn your waffles to bits. I’m not hungry, you said. I scooped the pieces into my hand and ate them as we hurried down the street, late for school.