Trina Machacek: Paper plate lottery

Trina Machacek

Trina Machacek

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The times are a changing. The life of a paper plate has changed enormously from when I was but a wee Trina. The lowly paper plate was once just a white, excuse the pun, paper thin plate that only held maybe a hot dog and a few chips.
I really think the only reason they held anything at all was because we kids were sat down on the ground with the plate also at ground level. That way the plate didn’t have a chance to bend and fold and drop food stuffs on us, the dog, and the ground. Because of course we were already on the ground.
Now? Well let’s just take a gander at the paper plate choices we have today. It is nearly impossible to find the paper plates of my youth. Oh they are there. They are the ones that when you grab one it is all but inevitable that you will get two or maybe three as they are stuck together.
I always thought I was lucky when I discovered I had gotten two plates. As I went to throw away the plate I was using I would find I could peel away one and still have a new bright white plate.
Remember that sound of separation? Not really a tearing. More of a letting go. Not sticking or leaving a glob of glue on part of the top plate. They were just stuck together. They would just ri-i-i-i-ip apart and magically you had two plates. Wow, winning the paper plate lottery! Not too sure about the lucky part as the second plate was even thinner and wouldn’t even hold a single Lifesaver to save my life!
Then over time paper plates got thicker, stronger and bigger too. I was recently at a family barbecue and the plates were wonderful. Strong and thick. Still picked them apart to get only one. It felt like I had three. They were wonderfully built to securely hold all the goodies laid out in the buffet line. That brand of plates will certainly be on my grocery list for my next gathering. They were like getting a plate made of cardboard, but white and clean. They held all I could eat and some that I had to leave because my eyes, as per my usual, were bigger than my tummy. Which brings me to the size of plates.
Plates of my childhood picnics were probably about 8 inches across. You know 500 for like 3 bucks. But. Yes a plate shaped “but.” Now plates are not only strong but huge. Taking this journey of plate discovery I saw packages of plates that were platter size and thicker. After all if you have bigger you are going to need thicker too. Making them strong enough to hold all you can pack, pile and pillage while piling on yumminess.
Moving from the stronger than steel plates there are the cute party plates. One just has to go down the party aisle for overload of plates and napkins and cups that all match. If you know someone turning one to one hundred there are paper plates that will hold cake and ice cream but don’t count on a stack of ribs with potato salad being safe with these cuties. Cute yes, strong no. Happy characters with wide eyes and mouths always open to gobble and share as much sugar any ten year old can eat in one sitting.
I have also been handed a dreaded plastic plate. Just like a paper plate but you know, plastic. Designed to be used once and then thrown away but as a woman I have trouble throwing away a perfectly good plastic plate. I mean it can be washed at least once can’t it? Yes! Just like a red plastic cup. Who washes those – at least once? Now be honest.
Even though plastic plates are strong and unbending under the heaviest scoop of grandma’s potato salad, having a plastic plate at a barbecue is like playing ice hockey with slippery mayonnaise slathered macaroni salad. Then add a plastic fork to the plastic plate of mac salad and let the party begin. Now you juggle and navigate a plate, fork, napkin and maybe a drink. Add in a “happy to see you” puppy nipping at your gnawed clean rib bones sliding around on your plastic plate. What a show.
Yes eating at a barbecue is always an adventure. Oh and let’s not forget the big ole slab of watermelon on yet another plate! Whatever you use to carry your food from the grill or table to your assigned spot-enjoy the journey of summer.
Trina Machacek lives in Eureka. Her new book, They Call Me Weener, is available on or email her at to find out how to get a signed copy.


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