In the shower this morning, after a long train of thoughts not worth recording here, I arrived at a comparison between the sometimes small portions served in certain French restaurants and the gargantuan portions served in some American restaurants. It seemed to me that I preferred the American, or at least a moderate version of it. The way the thought expressed itself was: I want more than I want.
Rather than impute to my mental discourse more contradictions than are no doubt there, let’s suppose that pragmatics applies in foro interno (an interesting thought—if I’m talking to myself, why don’t I just say what I mean? can there be genuine irony in mental discourse?). ‘I want more than I want’ could have meant
(i) I want to be served more food than I want to eat.
Or (if I don’t know exactly how much I want)
(ii) I want to have the option of eating more than I want at the moment.
There is a puzzle here about whether I actually did mean one or the other. Perhaps they are reconstructions of a thought that had no precise content. But my interest here is the preferences implied by (i) and (ii).
Regarding (i), it may be that eating at a restaurant has something in common with potlatch, and that food is expected not only to be served but wasted. I expect and (in my role as diner) want that to occur.
Regarding (ii), I suppose this is an exercise in rational choice. I don’t know exactly how much will satisfy me. The best outcome is getting the very amount that will satisfy me. The next best is getting too much, and the worst is getting too little (on the supposition that I prefer that food be wasted to my going hungry).
The serving practices of restaurants no doubt have aspects of both potlatch and rational choice: the management wants to impress me and to ensure that I’m satisfied. On the other hand, it doesn’t want to use more food than will accomplish those ends. (Classy restaurants proceed on the convenient assumption that you will be insulted if you are given too much. “Super-sizing” is vulgar, partly because classy people don’t eat merely to satisfy their hunger.)
Which brings me to the real point. Telling kids to clean their plates is a bad idea.