I’m doing something differently this year by writing about Thanksgiving the week before because I want to remind people what the day is all about — really. As we are preparing for this year’s gastronomic extravaganza, I want to give thanks for the many gifts that I have.
Originally, Thanksgiving was the fall harvest festival to celebrate the bounty of a good summer, a hard year’s work and the promise of a new land. Legend has it that pilgrims and Indians (Native Americans these days) sat down at a common table to break bread and make peace. Not many of us are farmers, and our connection to the production of our food is decidedly remote. That, however, should not prevent us from taking a moment to examine the process by which we are all going to indulge in a few thousand calorie eat-a-thon.
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 abundance in our diet.
We can stop in at the local Mega-Mart and purchase cases of canned, frozen and freeze-dried foods. 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. We don’t know what it is to see a cow grow from a calf to a heifer to being slaughtered for our Sunday dinner. No, it comes to us pre-packaged, pre-sorted, and prepared.
We have food markets for all types of differing cuisine. I can gastronomically travel the world, all from the comfort 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.
This is what Thanksgiving is all about, the blending of cultures, experiences, and people to become one — American.
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.
This Thanksgiving, we should take a look at how it all started, not from a historical perspective, for the bare facts of history shed no light or warmth; but from the perspective of what the first pilgrims and Indians did. They set in motion a pattern that we repeat today. They opened their hearts and their homes to get to know each other.
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.