Don’t Eat Like a Rich Kid: My Lesson in Food Etiquette

In the past, I have devoted blogs to what I have been eating in West Africa, but recently I realized it is just as important to share my lessons in how people eat.

This realization came to me at the dinner table, when Boris complained that I “eat like a rich person” after noticing that I didn’t eat every morsel of chicken on the drumsticks I was served. He then explained that people in Africa eat all their food, because many people don’t have anything to eat at all. After I got through the guilt trip that ensued from his explanation, I thought about my own potential reasoning for not eating every single scrap of food on my plate at every meal.

My first contention followed the adage in the United States, “A lady never eats everything on her plate; you must leave a polite bite left.” The logic feeding into America’s obsession with women watching their figures and their image as dainty dames who don’t pig out, right? However, I have never been one to follow conventional ideas about how women should act (or eat for that matter.) When comparing the African and American line of though, I think the African one makes more sense.

Since the conventional “American Culture” argument falls through, my second contention as to why I don’t eat every single bite served is more of an observation of the amount of food served in West Africa. These are not the portions I am used to in the U.S. They are bigger!  (At least I think they are..) So if I eat until I am sated, there is usually food left. The easy answer to this is to take a smaller portion, right? So I tried this. In my commitment to not looking like a wasteful rich person, at the next meal, I took a smaller portion of food, so as to impress upon the group that I could take a cue.

It was a fufu like mash in a yummy eggplant soup, I ate everything, down to the fish off the bones and last spoonful of soup. I sat, beaming with pride at my accomplishment, and quite full. The host of our meal was sitting next to me and said, “Ah, your plate is empty, you must want more.” Before I could open my mouth to object, another full serving of fufu and soup was before me.  I couldn’t win.

I noticed this is a different degree in Ghana. I used to eat fufu and ground nut soup for lunch almost every day at the corner spot in Medie. They always served an enormous amount of food that no one in their right mind would finish, or at least in their American mind. Many Ghanaians would finish their meal, but it would be the only meal of their day, since fufu and banku takes so long to digest.  Whenever I would get up to leave with any fufu or soup left, Patience, the cook would look at me with disappointment and say, “Why don’t you like my food?” I tried to explain my food logic, but never to her satisfaction.

After all my challenges in adjusting to a new culture of food, I am reminded of something my  wise ol’ dad once said..

…. Never eat anything bigger than your face.

Now, this, I believe is good logic that anyone should follow, maybe next time I am chided for my eating habits, I will use his words of wisdom.



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  1. Lara says:

    Great post Sy! <3

  2. Lisa says:

    Oh, yes, I remember him saying that! I also remember him making me eat all the food on the plate! LOL

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