I’m sort of dismayed when I stand in the supermarket check out line this time of year and see headlines trumpeting “recipes to slim down your Thanksgiving” or “light takes on classic Thanksgiving recipes.” This year I found most of my recipes from the New York Times Health section. Despite the fact that it’s from the Health section, the new stuffing recipe I found contains plenty of butter and bacon. In fact, most of the recipes to be found there are appropriately rich. It would seem that the Times editors and I are in agreement – feasting the old-fashioned way is an important part of a healthy lifestyle.
Most of my days are somewhat mundane and my meals look nothing like Thanksgiving. Yes, I sit down to a nice home cooked dinner with my family most nights. But the food is ultra simple – a piece of grilled fish or barbecued chicken and a fresh vegetable steamed or stir fried and maybe a bit of quick-cooking brown rice. Nourishing, yes, tasty, check. Feast-like? Nope.
So prepping for the big meal this week is really fun. I’ll visit two different farmer’s markets to procure greens, brussels sprouts and sweet potatoes. I ordered a turkey from a nearby farm. The fresh ingredients part is not so different from what I do normally, although I am definitely pickier when preparing this meal. What’s different is that I am looking forward to adding a healthy amount of butter, bacon, and lets not forget the marshmallows – to those fresh ingredients.
There is a lot of good writing out about cultivating healthy habits (such as the book The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg). Building healthy eating and exercise habits that last is key to maintaining a healthy weight. I also believe that one of the best ways to maintain healthy habits and not feel deprived is to break them on occasion. Rules, as they say, are meant to be broken. I tend to break my eating rules when I go to really good restaurants, which is not all that often. And I will eat all sorts of things on holidays and special occasions. These are the feast days, when the rules get broken and the butter flows freely.
Thanksgiving is the feast of feasts, because the holiday is actually about being grateful for food itself. This can seem abstract in our world where food is everywhere and oh so easy to obtain – yet we’re distanced from where it actually comes from. This reality makes it all the more important to celebrate the harvest on Thanksgiving Day. The pilgrims of 1621 were psyched to know that, at least for the next couple of months, they wouldn’t starve. The situation was pretty clear. Good harvest: chance of survival. Bad harvest: possible starvation. And they endured so much back-breaking work to get their food to the table that they couldn’t for one minute imagine the idea of having more than enough of it.
The food landscape in the United States today is insane. An abundance of calories are available to us, but many of them are nutritionally useless, made up of chemicals and corn syrup. Despite the glut of “food” and the wealth of our country, people still go hungry on a regular basis. There is tons and tons of waste. Some people are getting so much of the chemical and corn syrup stuff they’re getting obese and sick from it. And Thanksgiving might be one of the few days of the year when the majority of Americans are sitting down to a meal of real, home-cooked food. In our own, weird, modern way, many of us are starving.
Some of us are also starving for the connection and fellowship that comes with sharing a meal with people you care about. We rush around and we eat on the run and we don’t sit down and break bread with our families often enough. It goes without saying that the best thing about Thanksgiving is the family and friends with whom we sit down at the table. It is also a good day to think deeply about food, where it came from, and our relationship to it. It’s a reminder of what we’ve lost as a culture and what could still be. So lets celebrate with a full-fledged, full-fat feast, and be grateful for the abundant harvest. And please, pass the butter!