A s a child, I was skilled at shuffling food around my plate and hiding sad-looking green things behind lamb chop barricades. The ruse rarely worked, and a mouthful or two was usually required before dessert appeared.
My British father was a long-standing member of the clean-plate club. World War II rationing seemed to linger in his mind, so chicken bones were stewed into soup for weeks with such reluctance to throw them out that one half expected the remains to be ground up into mortar for some pointing on the front porch.
For me, all this solid training came to a bloated end.
The first few weeks of living in Cairo after high school were a battle of upbringing versus impossibly large quantities of food. And my stomach had to weather the crossfire. Whenever I was invited to dinner, Egyptian friends would pile wonderful delicacies on my plate. My hosts would then insist on seconds and thirds. I would take the tiniest spoonful of this or that and clean my plate again. It was a mistake, tantamount to saying, "You haven't fed me enough." And consequently a recipe for exploding.
Food is the currency of hospitality in the Middle East a sign of generosity even in the most hard-pressed household.
Each culture brings its own subtext to the eating ritual. For Americans, speed and super-size portions seem to be the dining experience of choice. This is producing an explosion of a different kind as obesity rates soar. And right now lawyers are pointing their chubby fingers at the fast-food chains (see page 13).
In Egypt, I came to appreciate the graciousness of my hosts and learned to leave a stray heap of rice or half-eaten pastry as proof their generosity had overwhelmed me.