Just take the last piece, Minnesota

Hey Minnesota, you left a little something there. Right there. On the plate. Yeah, that. That one-eighth of a doughnut.

How did you even cut it that small?

Why didn’t you just eat it?

‘Cause you’re a Minnesotan, that’s why, and you’d rather admit the accents in “Fargo” are highly accurate than take the last bite of a communal food offering.

For anyone who has ever been perplexed by this Midwest-modesty-in-overdrive that prevents people from taking the last literal square inch of a seven-layer bar off the paper plate in the break room, there’s now a place to share your frustrations.

When in doubt, just leave half. When in doubt, just leave half. Bob Collins | MPR News

Jenn Bouma and Natalia Mendez started a Facebook group, “Cursed Last Bites of Minnesota,” last month.

It documents the bizarre leftovers that Minnesotans’ deeply engrained sense of fairness will just not allow them to eat. One forkful left of cake. The heel of a banana bread loaf. Half a mozzarella stick. (C’mon! The cheese is leaking out! Just eat it!)

Why does this happen? Where did it come from? Is there an overzealous sharing unit in Minnesota kindergarten curriculum?

The “always leave the last bite” phenomenon is something Bouma noticed as a transplant from Illinois, she told City Pages.

From City Pages:

“Like, people aren’t even doing it on a conscious level,” Bouma says. “They just want not to be the one that takes the last piece, because someone might be hungrier than me, someone who needs this.”

Is that it? Are Minnesotans just too nice to take that last bite of oatmeal cookie? Cookies aren’t meant to be split, folks. The cookie is the serving.

For what it’s worth, MPR producer Max Nesterak points out that Minnesotans aren’t alone in this problem. The Germans even have a word for it, because of course they do. “Höflichkeitsgeste,” which translates as “the polite piece,” means the last piece that no one wants to take — because it’s the last piece.

But just take the doughnut, Minnesota. Don’t let it sit around getting stale until you find someone from Massachusetts to eat it.

If you see this kind of food crime going on in your office, at least now you have a place to share it: You can post the absurdly small leftovers on Cursed Last Bites of Minnesota.

There are plenty of culprits at Minnesota Public Radio. Pictures below.

Photo: Nikki Tundel | MPR News

Photo: Nikki Tundel | MPR News

Photo: Nikki Tundel | MPR News

Photo: Nikki Tundel | MPR News

Photo: Nikki Tundel | MPR News

Photo: Nikki Tundel | MPR News

(Disclaimer: I’m from Oregon.)

  • BJ


    If I could pronounce it I would memorize and use it all the time!!!

    • Höflichkeitsgeste – A polite gesture.

      • GentleStove

        Doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with the last piece phenomenon, either- it’s a neutral phrase.

    • Jerry


  • rallysocks

    >>The heel of a banana bread loaf. <<

    I will never show shame for eating the best piece of the loaf. Unless, of course, I know someone who likes them even more than I do.

    • Oh, no kidding. I go the bread heels as well. They make great toast.

      • rallysocks

        Best. Part. Of. Any. Bread. And meatloaf 🙂

        • Kassie

          Now I want meatloaf. It is soon to be meatloaf weather.

    • John

      no one likes them more than I do. This is the only exception to the rule. I will wrestle you to the ground and physically remove the heel of a loaf of fresh bread from your mouth if I have to.

      • Jack

        Bread heel lovers of the world unite! Nothing like fresh crunchy bread. My mom and I used to jostle for them when we got the bread home from the store. The crunchier the better.

        For the record, I’m the native Minnesotan. She was born in Nebraska but moved to Oregon at a very young age.

  • Jeff C.

    I always feel sorry for the last shrimp from the shrimp cocktail that goes uneaten. It died in vain.

    • Veronica

      I’m pretty sure it’s a terrible idea to eat the last communal shrimp.

    • Bob Sinclair

      I thought it died in MN

  • MrE85

    No. It’s part of what makes us….us.

  • tboom

    I don’t know about the rest of Minnesota, but this is the way I was raised. Really. As a child I was taught two rules of Pot-Luck: 1) always try a little bit of everything because even if a dish tastes bad somebody put a lot of work into its preparation, they deserve the courtesy you (me) at least tasting it and. 2) Never take the last serving of anything that tastes good, just in case somebody hasn’t been through the line and had a chance yet. If it’s your first time through take half, if you’re working on seconds don’t take any.

    I always assumed everyone obeyed these rules, it sure seems that way.

  • Rob

    My guess is that leaving an eighth of a donut behind has more to with concern over all the germs left on it from the previous seven people who handled it as they cut off their pieces. And here’s a pro tip: when you swig all but the last miniscule amount of milk out of the carton, keep going. Nobody wants your backwash. : )

  • Phil B

    I moved to northern Wisconsin from Minnesota and it happens here too all the time.

  • LilAsil

    Of course you leave the last piece! C’mon people! I remember Thanksgivings where taking that last piece would receive a slap on the hand from Grandma and scolding from Grandpa while Mom would exclaim if you want seconds of something else, just ask! It was absolutely a respectful gesture. No good Lutheran Church assembly lacks in at least a dozen plastic serving trays with a tiny piece of molasses cookie, half of a stale ham sandwich and a sliver of lemon bar still standing tall.

  • Postal Customer

    is the obsessive holding the door for others also Minnesotan? you could be a football field away and somebody will hold the door for you.

    I realize people are being nice, but I’d rather not have to walk faster just so I don’t inconvenience you by making you hold the door for longer. Maybe that’s Minnesotan of me.

    • GentleStove

      Or waving people on at a stop sign when it’s your turn? Uff da.

    • John

      I am mentally unable to take the last of everything, and yes, I will hold the door for you – it’s a compulsion (though I am able to keep that impulse in check enough that I won’t if you’re too far away.)

    • Tom Sittler

      That’s a “proximity to the Frozen North” thing. The closer you are to Canada, the further away people will hold the door for you. New Mexicans don’t bother, or will hold it for you if you’re literally breathing down their neck.

  • Renae

    I never eat the last bite because I don’t want to be responsible for leaving an empty dirty tray laying on the table, and I’m too lazy to wash it. Common sense dictates that she who eats the last piece must wash the dish, at least in my office. So it usually sits there with a dried out half-eaten muffin until someone finally carts it away.

    • Bingo. I don’t want the hassle of cleaning up, so I never touch the last bite.

  • Tim

    It’s the amount of work people will undertake to not take all of that last piece that I find bizarre. Either take the last cookie/doughnut or don’t, but commit fully either way.

    And if nobody takes the last of something, it’s just going to go to waste anyway.

  • guest

    Our Pastor from Chicago was amazed the pot-lucks at church always lasted exactly right. I didn’t explain how folks would small down their serving sizes if the good stuff was almost gone and that taking the L A S T piece was ingrained as impolite.

    I probably should have taken the time.

  • Patrice Bradley

    Here is a spoof that Swim Creative made about Minnesota Nice for United Way. https://youtu.be/SeM_OOPm1vE

    • giantmendez

      Hahahahahaha so accurate and painful. JUST EAT IT!

  • John Dennis

    It’s being nice to the host! If they see all of the food has been eaten, they’ll feel they inadequately prepared for the appetites of their guests. We’re Minnesota nice after all #donteatthelastpiece

  • jon

    Much like the author I’m not from here. But I do enjoy watching the horrified faces of people who are from here when I take the last piece.

    Probably looks a lot like my horrified face when I’m a passenger in a car merging into traffic that is driven by a native.

  • Torsten Adair

    Okay… I’m from Nebraska, but we also do the church potluck thing… so here’s my solution: You take the last piece, then you take the empty plate, pan, dish to the church kitchen and wash it.

    Or, if you just can’t take the last piece… place them on a paper plate, and hand it to a homeless person, or take it to a shut-in afterwards.

    Me… I’ll take the last piece, because my father survived the Great Depression on a farm in Iowa, and my mother survived WWII in Germany. You do not waste food.

  • Ben

    Loved this piece, pun intended. This was hilarious!

  • Jerry

    It is simply proof that Minnesotans are good at demonstrating Zeno’s Paradox in bar form.

  • Georgia Weyant Janisse

    I am a missionary living in Ukraine – but I’m from California. I find the Ukrainian leave-the-last-bite rule to be so amusing. I have been so tempted to take photos of all the plates after a group eats together. There is always one of everything – and they don’t usually cut it in half. I find it to be very sweet. I didn’t know that in some parts of America we do the same!

  • Mary Campbell

    I’m from Philadelphia and 30 years ago, one of my college essays was “Why will no one eat the last cookie?” It may be more prevalent in Minnesota, but I think it’s an innate human action (or lack of action).

    • Keep in mind, it’s not just not taking the last piece… it’s cutting the last piece — a doughnut or a cupcake — into halves, quarters, eighths, sixteenths and sixty-fourths so that there’s still a “last piece” that’s not a last piece at all. It’s shrapnel.

  • Empress

    Well, I am mexican, and we had the same rule. Someone explained to me our older generations were very concerned with appearances, like, not to look poor, uneducated or too hungry. So leaving the last piece, even in your own plate on a banquet, was to show you were not a “hungry horphan” litterally! Maybe it was just her understanding of her own experiences as a child.

  • Edie

    Admit it Minnesota, if you take the last piece some snarky jerk will say he must not get enough to eat at home, or mention that of course she took the last piece because did you see those hips they didn’t get that big from exercising self control.

  • Mariette Sc

    This does not happen with me. Every time there is a piece of food left on a plate, and I like it, I say: “Can I have it?”, and sure enough there is always someone who says ” Can we share it?”. I have noticed that the “someone” is always there when you ask to have the last piece. Maybe because we are not from Minnesota? Maybe!

  • Karin

    I’m German. This immediately sounded familiar. We do it, too. It is rude to take the last piece, at least without offering it a million times to everybody else. And this thing is called “Höflichkeitsstück”.

  • Kevin Doran

    Another Minnesota thing… I call it the Minnesota standoff. Mostly happens at intersections, but can happen in parking lots, with a car and pedestrians, or even with two shopping carts. Two people approach an intersection, stop, and then both try to wave the other through. Both laugh, pause, and then try to go simultaneously. They then stop again, try to wave each other through again, etc. This cycle can continue for a few minutes if it’s not busy.

  • RoadrageinWY

    That’s hysterical. My ex-roommate of 18 years criticized me up one side and down the other for this….but it was something ingrained in me from childhood – not to take the last piece of something, in case someone else needed it more. (maybe it harks back to the “children are starving in europe” ploy that parents used to try to get us to eat broccoli? And now they ARE starving in Europe, for real, and I would gladly send the last piece , and even the next-to-last piece of anything on my table! Seriously. And Dan can go jump in the lake. I was not the only person ever to do this.

  • Hunter Goetzman

    Höflichkeitsgeste translates to polite gesture (e.g. hand shake, bow, sitting after the guest sits, etc.) and is not specific to any one action.

    Though it wouldn’t be a word that is commonly used, if you use Google results as an indicator, Höflichkeitsrest describes this phenomenon. But German is a versatile language and simply having a word that works is not an indication of a cultural norm, which I would argue is not the case in Germany in my experience. The author might look into the polite gestures of non-European countries for comparisons to find an article worth writing.