Between the two American holidays of Thanksgiving and Christmas, it seems appropriate to write about one aspect of both: food.
Traditionally the first Thanksgiving was a celebration of a successful, or at least adequate, harvest with the hope that such would carry the Pilgrims through the hard winter to come. Occasions for such thoughts, no doubt, are ancient and center around family and tribe sustainability. An official thanksgiving holiday was not celebrated until 1863 when Abraham Lincoln declared one, a few hundred years after the “first” Thanksgiving in 1621.
We collectively count the blessings of family and friends, of a shared tradition, and other cuddly ideals, if only for the day. We watch TV football, perhaps an old movie, we go shopping for fashions and their bargains. Or perhaps there is a stroll around the neighborhood after dinner, to be amazed that some neighbors have their Christmas decorations up already as if they can’t savor the meal or the moment.
It must be pointed out that Native Americans have a very different view of this event; as a day of mourning, a beginning of the end so to speak. So let us not be smug.
Thanksgiving has many personal meanings, remembrances, but generally it can be appreciated by a broad spectrum of citizens as it is 99% divorced from religion and politics as its motivation. It is about sharing food.
There are, no doubt, many different foods prepared these days with only some derived from the original and modest Pilgrim fare. Turkey, vegetables, and, I’d like to think, pie. The vegetables were probably corn and beans, but immigrant communities over the years have introduced their own. I wonder if cranberries were originally the only fruit as it surely must be included these days. Spuriously or not, tradition requires pumpkin, apple, or pecan pie, nestled in the ‘fool-proof’ crust of great, great grandmother’s recipe. One of our hunting neighbors has venison or maybe bear meat, shooting fowl is not his expertise.
We no longer sit around a campfire, or have more ritual than possibly saying a generic grace. The ritual is the coming together, partaking in fellowship. We genuinely want to avoid family animosities on this secular day. Ritual is made of accepted rules and expectations, manners and convivial conversation. Please, no distracting devises at the table!
Yet in the land of plenty our over-indulgence is an embarrassment. There are, no doubt, civic organizations who present some version of this feast to the homeless, the indigent, the infirm. I applaud these valiant efforts to counter the blatant disparities in our society. In contrast, our cultural obsession with food prompts restaurants to super-size portions so that the bill comes with a box.
The plethora of TV shows that cater to this fascination with food are no longer just instructional, but entertainment with competing characters and teeth-clenching suspense. And like everything else, the complexity of food preparation has gotten extreme in the way that extreme sports or extreme dating have become something that most people would not do. I confess to enjoying Stanley Tucci: Searching for Italy or The Great British Baking Show, but in both cases, they are not, for me, about food. Watch them to see what I mean, to see the camaraderie, humor, and positive atmosphere they exude.
It is well-documented that during these holidays there is an up-tick in heart attacks and subsequent hospital stays. Yes, yes, there may be extenuating causes, but, as is well known, the majority of adult Americans are overweight to be kind, obese to be honest. Our wealth is costing us lives and oodles of money. The consequences of this negligence can’t be macho-ed through.
The Buddha urged his disciples, both monastic and lay followers, to partake of food for the nourishment of the body and not for the sake of pleasure. Your cardiologist says the same thing. Self-education, self-discipline, common sense. In other words, don’t let the peppy fast-food ads industry shove calories down your throat. To be sure, there are “food deserts” in some urban areas and even unhealthy, but affordable, foods are all that can be obtained.
There are more than a few peer-reviewed papers to attest to the evils of agri-biz practices, even as there is a struggle to nourish the eight billion humans who populate our planet. It has been shown that, through various processes (maybe not strictly ingesting) micro plastics are to be found in our blood streams, a strange alien, an unintended intruder as insidious as a mean virus. For some reason, this phenomenon seems more frightening than chemical pollutants from water or air which, though as invisible, we have known about and lived with for quite some time. New horrors are scarier horrors.
And more frightening is the fact of “food insecurity,” a parsing euphemism for starvation, in many parts of the world. As the world warms and extreme weather events become more frequent, the world’s food supply will be greatly challenged. I have no doubt that scientists are furiously developing therapies for the world’s ills, but food supply has already been weaponized in some counties. Is it possible that wars will be fought over the essential resource of food and food distribution? I have no doubt that man’s insanity could precipitate such an apocalyptic event.
Sorry to end on such a note. I didn’t intend to give you indigestion, just a little food for thought and what a bargain! As Christmas celebrations and other solstice-determined rituals approach, think about enjoying the occasion with family and friends; life is more than food.
Elegy for Food
When it comes to certain nutrients . . . an estimated 80 to 90 percent of obese individuals are malnourished. —Maria Konnikova “Altered Tastes,” The New Republic.
Say goodbye to foods we loved as kids,
try as we might to save or savor them,
adding value to what survives
with labels: heirloom, original, artisanal.
Say farewell to sweets and ice cream,
watermelon seeds, roadside raspberries.
The decadence of season is now year-round, global,
stamped with barcodes and acronyms.
Dites au revoir to gentle living—
the whole pyramid is prepackaged in stacks
of cans and boxes, frozen, or shrink-wrapped,
even apples are plastic, 3-D printed in Peru perhaps.
Forget the allergic reaction, the rebellion
of microbes, the chemical soup, the self de-feasting diet;
forget that our food is slowly killing us.
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