Growing up, I used to routinely hear from my Mom about how I should be grateful for whatever was on my plate for dinner that evening. Having grown up during the Depression, "Waste not, want not" was one of the rules she lived by.
My gratitude, in this case, was only properly demonstrated by eating every single bite.
Most of the dishes I needed to be so strongly urged to express my gratitude for included or consisted solely of some form of prepared canned vegetable.
Being proudly pronounced a member of the "Clean Plate Club" by my Mother was supposed to be it's own reward. Membership had no special privileges, although it was occasionally tied in some way to access to dessert that evening.
After I reached a certain age, my shared pride in my Mother pronouncing me a club member was greatly overshadowed by my growing reluctance to eat some foods.
We didn't have a dog to eat offending food items "accidentally dropped" onto the floor. So I indulged in all the other well known dodges. I tried swallowing tiny bites of food whole as medicine, washed down by huge gulps of milk. I rolled food into my napkins. I hid vegetables in the remnants of my glass of milk and I shoved them under mashed potatoes. Those were foolish rookie measures, temporary at best. I was always meant to eventually finish the mashed potatoes AND the milk.
Many nights I would be stationed alone at the dinner table, sitting vigil over a cold pile of some vegetable, my sentence pronounced previously as "you will sit there until you have cleaned your plate".
As a result I have conflicting emotions about the idea of eating everything on my plate. Now that I cook for myself, it is a rare occurrence if I don't actually enjoy the taste of everything I am served.
In restaurants, I am an adventurous orderer, but I try not to eat every bite unless I actually want all I've gotten, or all I've been served. At home I try to hone my serving sizes down in an attempt to keep my intake roughly equal with my outgo, calorie wise.
This was why I was initially miffed at my Tomato Eating Squirrel. When I first began spotting half eaten stolen tomatoes left sitting on our fence, my reaction was "it didn't even eat the whole thing!".
As I thought more about the relative size of a squirrel's gut compared to the bulk of even a small tomato, I relented. The squirrel most certainly ate it's fill. The rest of that tomato did not go to waste in the sense it was not eventually completely consumed. It was. In stages by all sorts of bugs and micro-organisms, but every tomato left on that fence was most assuredly eventually eaten.
So as I watched yesterday to see if the squirrel had taken a last tomato I left for it on the fence, I was disappointed to see the fruit sitting intact on the fence all morning, all afternoon, and then into the dark. I didn't want it to go to waste.
When I checked this morning however, I was relieved to see that my Tomato Eater had taken his/her fill, and the remainder of the tomato sitting on the fence was already attracting the rest of the local wildlife that would continue the feast at their own pace and on their own terms. Eventually the fence will be completely cleared. A backyard version of that clean plate. Nothing truly gone to waste. I hope my Mom will be proud.