In Ender's Shadow Bean is informed that everyone in Battle School must eat all of their given food:

Your portions are scientifically calibrated to meet your dietary needs, and in the future you will finish every bit of what you are served."

However, in Ender's Game we learn that Ender "always" leaves food over after each meal:

Ender laughed. "I'll setup a system for you."


"Can I finish eating?"

"You never finish eating."

It was true. Ender's tray always had food on it after a meal. Ender looked at the plate and decided he was through. "Let's go then."

What makes Ender special? If anything, wouldn't the school be more on top of what Ender eats?

  • Because Ender doesn't follow arbitrary orders? I think that's the point it's illustrating.
    – user31178
    Commented Nov 19, 2015 at 3:26
  • Ender often follows orders however resentful he is about them. Also Ender's Shadow implies that this rule is very strictly enforced.
    – ibid
    Commented Nov 19, 2015 at 3:48
  • Well, Ender's special. That's also the point of the books. Maybe someone can get you a satisfactory answer.
    – user31178
    Commented Nov 19, 2015 at 3:53
  • I read every answer, every comment. And aside for compunction to rebel or abide by dietary rules, do I see reference to any unspoken rule of combat which is to "stay hungry" for reason of keeping one's body and mind "on edge" and less prone to become lazy from satisfaction. But of course we are looking for concrete answers not speculation, right?
    – user98163
    Commented May 21, 2021 at 16:04

2 Answers 2


This isn't directly addressed in canon, however:

  • Bean is extremely small. This is due both to

    • his young age - he was sent to Battle School at 5YO

    • his Amsterdam street upbringing. He lagged in sufficient nourishment for 5 years which makes humans grow up stunted even in subsequent years

    • and {{spoiler alert for sequel books}}

      because Anton's gene that was turned on in him makes his growth pattern to differ from baseline human child.

    At age 4 he was listed to look (size wise) as a normal 2.5 year old.

    This size issue would definitely necessitate the adults running the Battle School to be intent on feeding Bean up, because he clearly lagged what his mass and size percentile would have been for a normal child, and undernourishment is scientifically demonstrated to cause delays in both physical and mental development. So it was highly important as far as Bean was concerned, from their point of view.

    Bean agreed that this was the reason:

    Bean soon found out that his size was going to get official attention. When he brought his half-finished tray to the disposal unit, an electronic chiming sound brought the on-duty nutritionist to speak to him. "It's your first day, so we aren't going to be rigid about it. But your portions are scientifically calibrated to meet your dietary needs, and in the future you will finish every bit of what you are served."


    And he would have to start exploring soon. His exercise was making him stronger, and he was staying lean by not overeating -- it was unbelievable how much food they tried to force on him, and they kept increasing his portions, probably because the previous servings hadn't caused him to gain as much weight as they wanted him to gain.

  • Bean was tagged for leaving half of his food on the plate (see quote above).

    It's not clarified, but it's possible the automated system doesn't flag if only a little food is left.

    And we aren't told how much Ender leaves - it's quite possible he simply never finishes because he's thinking; and leaves a little - not enough for automated system to flag him, and not enough to impede his physical growth.

  • Bean is still a younger child. By that time, Ender is older (Bean is ~5, Ender is {hat/tip to ibid for correction} almost 7); so Ender is allowed more leeway in his food as is generally befitting their age differences in real world.

  • 1
    Two things however: 1) Ender's Shadow implies that this is with all Battle School kids (and directly says it about Bean's launch group). 2) The time that Ender us said to "never finish eating" is when he is 6 years, 9 months, and 12 days old, i.e. his last day in his launch group.
    – ibid
    Commented Nov 22, 2015 at 22:36
  • 1
    @ibid - #2 you're right age wise, but I still think the age difference matters. #1, I'm not sure. Everyone else but Bean was complaining about NOT ENOUGH food; and he was tagged for half-empty tray. As opposed to Ender's "some food on it". Updated Commented Nov 22, 2015 at 23:02

The difference is that Ender is already obedient, so no one care if he breaks small rules. Bean is rebellious, so he gets harassed about everything.

The difference between Ender and Beans is that Ender is the best at everything, but Bean can avoid the problem in the first place.

Here are some examples.

Ender beats a much larger boy in a fist fight. Bean traps a boy using a mob.

Ender beats the Giant's drink Bean does not play the game, to not have his psychology profiled

Ender is the best at the zero G game Bean figures out there is no reason to care if he wins or looses. He also just cheats

Ender beats the "simulation" with impossible odds Bean figures out it's not a simulation

So at the end of the day the academy needs to teach the two characters different things. Ender needs to learn to be tough. That only he can save himself. He is treated with hostility, put in bad situations, and is overall hardened.

Bean does not need to be hardened. The streets did that already. Instead Bean needs to learn to respect the chain of command. To do this they try to make him follow every rule to the letter. This includes eating his food.

  • Ender is said to have "never finish[ed] eating", the day after he beats the Giant's Drink, when he has only been in Battle school for 3 months. At that point he didn't do anything special save beating an older kid 2 out of 3 in the Game Room. Besides, Ender is a smart kid, wouldn't he have noticed if the school was making a special policy with him while strictly enforcing the rule with everyone else?
    – ibid
    Commented Nov 19, 2015 at 4:41
  • 1
    @ibid Ender is special from the moment he is born. For some reason not mentioned in the book his family spawns super geniuses, and the government knows that. The whole battle school is pretty much a sham with the only goal to train Ender, and a couple of backups. They know there will be no real war, the Bugger eradication fleet left long ago. Ender knows he is being singled out from the moment he is on the shuttle and everyone is told he is better than the rest. With the food thing, Bean is being singled out and forced to eat. Most kids are not. Bean also knows he is being singled out
    – Andrey
    Commented Nov 19, 2015 at 14:19
  • Ender does not realize that he is being singled out until he gets promoted to an Army a year ahead of schedule. He doesn't make the connection to what happened in the shuttle for another 3 years ("Then he remembered that it hadn't begun with his commanders. Before Rose and Bonzohad treated him with contempt, he had been isolated in his launch group. And it wasn't Bernard who began that, either. It was Graff") Confer his thoughts during his conversation with Mick as to what he had made of it at the time.
    – ibid
    Commented Nov 20, 2015 at 4:01
  • 1
    Ender's Shadow seems to imply that the food rule was for everyone, not just Bean. ("The whiners were informed by the cooks that the quantities were all adapted to their individual dietary needs -- each kid's portion size came up on a computer display when he palmed in upon entering the mess hall.")
    – ibid
    Commented Nov 20, 2015 at 4:03
  • 1
    Once again, if all of the other kids have their diets tightly controlled and Ender does not, wouldn't he have noticed?
    – ibid
    Commented Nov 22, 2015 at 4:21

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.