Two Views of Thanksgiving Gluttony

Kokomo's, Farmers Market (people eating)

I must precede this with a snark alert. Read at your own risk!

Yes, it’s the time of year when folks complain about falling into tryptophan comas, or of having to undo belts, or, conversely, about the evils of gluttony in other people. But there are two ways to look at Thanksgiving gluttony….

Thanksgiving, even the commercialized version now practiced in the United States, is at its heart a harvest festival, and only one of many. Every land in higher latitudes has hosted them from time immemorial–immemorial because we learned to plant seeds before we devised writing to memorialize our acts.

In fact, it is likely that we needed reading, writing, and arithmetic to help keep track of seed stores and crop yields, and it is more than likely that we invented religion to give us hope through the growing seasons that the grain would add up to enough to keep us kicking through winter.

So the harvest festival was a ritualization of the sense of relief we felt when we realized we probably wouldn’t starve in the next four months–and a last chance to eat our fill. The associated gluttony was perhaps a desperate measure meant to add another pound or two of fat just in case–emulating the bears that are also common in northern lands.

But there’s another side to gluttony, and that is avarice, the desperate hoarding of food by those warm-blooded creatures that do not sleep till spring. Critics of communal gorging might argue that we should better emulate the squirrels than the bears, and lay up stores of comestibles to chip at on chilly days.

Of course, early farmers all did both. But now we have ships and trains, and much of the north’s food comes from warmer climes, be it California or points farther south, below the border, or even below the Equator. There is no need to stuff oneself against the coming cold.

If there’s something to give thanks for, it’s the vast communal effort that keeps us in tomatoes, even if they’re tasteless ones, even in February, even in northern Maine.

Maybe it’s better to reflect on the price we pay for that delicate security–and the price paid by others. Ships, trains, and trucks disturb the earth and air in equal measure, and the contracts that fatten us, sometimes to death, often starve the very farmers we depend on.

In light of that, a lean Thanksgiving makes a little bit more sense after all, and puts less burden on the heart–both the literal heart, and the figurative one, the one we designate the storehouse of compassion.

So what am I going to do today? I’ll concoct some guacamole with garlic and corn and take it to my son’s house, where enchiladas are on the menu. We live in California, and damn near everything we’ll eat was grown nearby, and most of it was a traditional food round here for centuries before the white folks came and turned the farmers into field hands.

We had some extra, so we put it on a freight train going your way.

You’re welcome.

Rick Risemberg

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