Yesterday, a Facebook friend shared an NPR post from a Minnesota Public Radio blog called Just Take the Last Piece, Minnesota by Tracy Mumford. The article is written about Minnesotans, but NPR was correct in including the Midwest under this umbrella. There is something ingrained in us that prevents us from “taking the last piece”. If there is one doughnut left in the box, I will cut it in half before taking some. If there is only half a doughnut left in the box, I will cut THAT in half before taking some. It feels rude to take the last bite from a communal dish. The only exception I can think of is if everyone is present (such as at a dinner table) and I have the opportunity to ask everyone whether or not they want any of the last portion. If I am adequately persuaded that everyone else is too stuffed or not interested, then it feels okay.
This only applies to the communal dish. For example, some people who commented on the blog post mentioned how in their culture (or a culture that they were visiting), no one finished their plate. By leaving a bit of food on your plate, you indicated that you were full and that the host adequately fed you. Finishing your plate indicates that you are still hungry, and that the host did not prepare enough food to feed you. While I understand that mentality, that is a different story from this “leave the last piece” mentality. In fact, I was like many other children in America who were told to clean our plates. Cleaning one’s plate is also indicative of just how much you enjoyed the cook’s food.
I don’t remember anyone teaching me to leave the last bite, though, or even consciously thinking about it before reading this article. It’s definitely ingrained, however…If I go to the office and there is only one small cookie left, I won’t touch it. The blog indicated that it might be related to German influence (many Germans migrated to the Midwest), as the Germans have the word, “Höflichkeitsgeste”, to mean “courtesy gesture”, regarding leaving the last piece. I am curious, then, if any of my Pennsylvania Dutch friends also do this?
I did not realize this was a cultural thing and not a societal norm until I read the article. In a way, knowing that it’s not generally considered polite manners to leave the last piece helps me out. I have to admit that in large group social settings, I have been deflated several times when a dish I made was cleaned out before I had a chance to sample some. Even more so as a host, it feels polite to me to wait until everyone has had a chance to sample the dish; however, my expectation is that there will always be at least a *little* left at the end, based on this internal sense of politeness and manners. However, I have found that is not always the case. Much to my own chagrin, I have taken to sampling my food before guests arrive and then rearranging it so that it looks untouched…Uncouth, but when my cultural mores are not present everywhere, desperate measures must be taken! 😛
How about you?
Do you feel the same impetus to leave the last bit of communal food on the tray, even if it means cutting a small piece in half? Or is everything I am sharing sound completely absurd to you? Like Tracy Mumford, would you advise me and other Midwesterners to “just take the last piece!”? Please also share if you are from the Midwest and/or from an area with German influence. I’m curious if Mumford’s thesis is supported by you guys!