As we are preparing for this Thursday’s gastronomic extravaganza, I want to take a moment to share my thoughts on what Thanksgiving is for, and to give thanks for the many gifts that I have.
It used to be that people would actually till the earth, plant seeds, water the seedlings, nurture them and eventually harvest the vegetables and grains that provided sustenance. Today, it is corporate farming, done with automatic seeders, computer-controlled irrigation systems, pest control done by low flying propeller planes and harvesting done mostly by giant trucks that can clear huge fields in a day. The amount of work that is now performed by some form of automation has lead us to a time of supreme richness in our diet.
For example, to the traditional Thanksgiving dinner of turkey, dressing, cranberry sauce and what not, in my house we add hummus and pita, sometimes it’s curried hummus, just to blend the Indian with the Arabian. This year, in addition to the Italian goodies, I’ll have rose flavored ice cream from one of the many Persian markets, just because it is different and the people at my table tend to be foodies.
There will likely be the Italian influence of an antipasto platter of peppers, salami and olives. I’ll be shopping at Bay Cities Deli, if I can find a parking spot, just so I can stand in long lines and get delicacies from around the globe. Then it will be off to an awesome Italian deli called Guido Marcello hidden away on 10th Street, a block up from Olympic, for more rarefied goodies to complete my orphan Thanksgiving dinner.
We have the ability to feed hordes of people out of our pantries. Our collective food wealth has surged to unprecedented levels in the history of mankind.
Yet, all this wealth comes at a tremendous cost to us. Not in terms of money, for in actual fact, the food bill of America is extraordinarily low when you consider the amount of nutrition that one can buy — if one shops wisely. I don’t believe that the snack packs of hyper salted food qualify as true sustenance — they are more an emotional impulse buy than truly buying one’s health.
The cost to us comes in the form of being separated from the process. We don’t have the experience of tilling a row, planting corn, watching it grow all summer, and then seeing huge chunks of it eaten by caterpillars or worms. No, it comes to us pre-packaged, pre-sorted, and prepared. The only skill we need these days is to know how to rip open a bag of frozen bits, or operate a can opener and we have access to the bounty of summer — all year long.
As a society we have “progressed” to the point where anyone with a stove and a pan can enjoy the variety of flavors all the world has to offer, and we can get it all at our local mega-mart. This is objectively a good thing and something for which I am deeply grateful. The fact that I can gastronomically travel the world, all from the comfort of my own kitchen is a blessing of living in this little pocket of paradise.
From the very beginning of our country we have been blending cultures to achieve something that is an odd mix of foreign and native. We have taken the best of the various contributors to build a new set of traditions on the foundations of the old.
The participants at my Thanksgiving will range from a Texas native, to a Floridian, an Alaskan, a Massachusetts Yankee, and a couple of California yahoos. We will have a tapestry of cultures and peoples, all of whom have differing political, theological and economic interests and backgrounds.
This is what Thanksgiving is all about.
It is easy to look around and give thanks for the obvious things. Our newest iPod, the home we live in, the plasma screen TV, maybe even our family. But dig deeper, look at the true wealth we have. The mix of people and cultures that makes us a society. Look at how your life is shaped by the fact that your next door neighbor could be a different race, or religion, and yet you both share a commonality.
We might not be farmers, and few, if any, of us have slaughtered an animal for dinner, but we still have within us the ability to open our hearts and minds to see the bounty that is around us. A bounty that goes far beyond the material.
I am a man richly blessed in my friends. My house could be bigger, my car newer, my bank account fatter, my belly thinner, but at the end of the day, what is truly of value, what sustains me more than food, are the friends I have made, and the people I know and love.
Take a moment and look to see the human bounty that surrounds you, value your friends, and apologize to those you have hurt. Make your teenagers squirm, tell them you love them. Spend time with your parents, you’ll miss them when they are gone. Don’t worry about having the newest PlayStation, worry that you have no one to invite to dinner.
Thanksgiving is not about pumpkin pie, and sage dressing, it is about making friends, breaking bread, and being grateful for both.
David Pisarra is a family law attorney focusing on father’s rights and men’s Issues in the Santa Monica firm of Pisarra & Grist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (310) 664-9969.