I was born in Mexico. When I was a one year old, I immigrated to the U.S. with my parents. One summer I returned to the Pueblo where my grandmother and many of my extended family members still live today. I remember walking hand in hand with my abuelita to fetch water from the well across town. It took us about an hour to get there and an hour to return home, with a heavy bucket in tow. Even then the hard work did not end and we would boil all the water to get rid of bacteria.
For most of my childhood, despite being perfectly healthy and more than happy to eat the delicious food my mother cooked, I was routinely rewarded for finishing everything she served with the at-the-time-exciting-but-in-hindsight-seemingly-meaningless invitation to join the Clean Plate Club (CPC). The words “Great job. You made the Clean Plate Club today” have been permanently etched into my subconscious. And from all the conversations I’ve had about this topic, I’m not the only one. As a kid, I never reflected on the underlying message behind this club, or thought about why it would have come to be in the first place. As a teen, it seemed like an oddity, a habit of mind and speech that my parents continued to display because that’s how they’d always done it. More recently, though, as I’ve delved deeper into the issue of food waste, the Clean Plate Club has taken on new meaning for me, and despite some of the club’s shortcomings, the main message is highly relevant today, perhaps for different reasons than it was initially intended.