Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays because it is centered around food and spirit, and the way the two are connected. To take food that was of the earth, and place it into our bodies is, after all, a very spiritual act, one that ideally should give us that strong, earthy sense of what a real part we are of the food chain.
Thanksgiving is the celebration of the harvest. It began when a group of early Americans gathered together to enjoy their first real bountiful crop – most of which was grown from seeds given to them with techniques taught to them by the local Iroquois Indians.
The previous winter was long and cold; many people died. So with the more successful growing season and more bountiful harvest behind them, they were simply thankful. What a humble beginning....
The concept of a harvest is something from which most of us Americans have become disconnected. As long as we can (and do) buy mangoes in November at our local corner deli, and even Whole Foods, we are ignoring our own regions' rich agricultural heritage.
There is a reason we have cranberries and pumpkin and potatoes at Thanksgiving. In the Northeast, where Thanksgiving began, that is what is in season in November. As much as I like the tradition of Thanksgiving, I'm not wedded to making the same old menu each year. As much as I came to love my grandmother's yams with marshmallow topping, I do like stretching the traditions a little. Try doing something, maybe just one little thing, differently this year.
1) Buy as many of your vegetables, and even your turkey, direct from the farmer. If you live near a farmers' market, that's your best bet.
For those in New York City, the Union Square Farmers' Market is open tomorrow, Wednesday, and will have much of what you need for the feast.
2) Serve less. I know, a radical idea. There is no reason to completely pig out on Thanksgiving. A nice way to celebrate success is to still practice restraint.
3) Take a long moment of silence before you eat. It is difficult to
get an entire table of people to pause before their meal. Just be committed to the idea – raise your voice and say 'we'd like to have a moment" – those who might squirm and roll their eyes will appreciate it in the end. This moment does not have to be about religion necessarily – it can just be a moment, for the most atheist of atheists or the most faithful of believers, to take in the privilege they are about to experience, consuming a meal to mark the end of the growing season. It is, after all, a privilege to sit together and eat. The simplicity of it is what I think makes it such a privilege and a luxury. Take an extra breath, be extra still and quiet. I like to hover my palms over the food before I eat it just to appreciate its heat, its livingness.
4) If you're going out – take the same mindfulness and apply it to the chef and the waiter, and remember that their work is part of the journey from the field to your mouth. Thank them.
As for the meal itself – maybe leaving out the marshmallows on the yams is as far as you want to break tradition this year. Or maybe you'd like to fix a vegetarian meal. Or maybe you'll eat a little less, or a little slower. When I say "do something different this year," I'm not talking about serving mango salsa with your turkey. (Unless you live in Mexico, and you got that mango from the person who grew it. And you said thank you.) I'm talking about doing something really different - imagine yourself as part of the food chain, and see what a celebration it can be.
Happy Thanksgiving. skgr of SKCooks