Well this particular club was called The Clean Plate Club. And my neighbor, a kindly, southern mom named Esther and her family, decided that I would be a member while I was in their home. My parents were both working a lot at the time and this generous family took me in and offered free child care. I loved being at their house, that is, until the issue of club membership reared it's ugly head.
This particular club formed in 1917, when President Woodrow Wilson appointed Herbert Hoover the head of the U.S. Food Administration, and subsequently devised the "Clean Plate" campaign, which became a source of childhood angst for me and many others. (Thanks guys.) The now defunct club became even more popular in 1947 under President Harry S. Truman. So my caregivers grew up like this and it was how they ran their home.
When I began staying there for dinners, the problem emerged. I did not follow this rule in my home and I had no clue what on earth they were talking about. The idea that I would not be allowed to leave the table until my plate was spotless was revolting. And my glass of milk had to be finished, down to the last sip. Never mind that I didn't drink milk as it upset my stomach. This rule seemed to bypass how you felt (hungry, full, nauseated) and instead focused on how well you could ignore stomach pain and hold in your vomit. It was impossible to pass stuff down to the dog; she was tiny and there were only two children to watch, one of whom did as she was told. The other one was me.
One day, Esther put a plate in front of me that had a HUGE fried chicken leg jutting out of a mound of mashed potatoes, a roll, and the only thing I actually liked; green peas.
The chicken leg caused me great concern. I would be required by the house rule to finish the entire thing. At that time I did not like chicken, or chicken legs, or fried chicken. I sat there for a looooong time staring at the chicken leg, wishing it would get up and walk away.
It stared back. For hours.
My mother finally arrived. She saw me seated alone at the table. Esther explained that I hadn't cleaned my plate, and my mother was to bring the food home and serve it to me for breakfast the next morning, and each meal after, until I finished every single bite. Apparently I had to do this for my country, and it was the only way us immigrants would learn to be true Americans. The food was wrapped in tin foil and given to my mother, who promptly tossed it into the garbage at home. Little did Esther know - one of my mom's favorite pastimes is throwing stuff away.
My grandmother, who recently passed away, used to have a saying. If I didn't feel like finishing my meal or didn't want some food she offered me she would say, "don't want, don't have" which translates very poorly from the Hebrew version. But the sentiment is great in that it tells you to follow your gut and not to have anything that you don't truly want. This is especially important for those of use with digestive disorders.
Now, if you look on Wikipedia (my most credible source for information) you will see that it says that the concept of the clean plate club, "...puts Americans at risk of unhealthy life styles" and it goes on to say that "Some 'Clean Plate' cases may turn into psychological problems". That explains a lot. I'll add that if you are an undiagnosed celiac being forced to eat a plate full of wheat, well, these well-meaning but misguided individuals could be KILLING YOU.
Ok, that is dramatic. And they weren't actual killing me since I was a kid who would sit there for long periods of time, staring at avocado green curtains, refusing to eat the food.