With Thanksgiving Food Traditions, It’s Not the Food That Counts: Foodie Underground


Column Don’t want to serve classic Thanksgiving food? That’s just fine.

Since it’s Thanksgiving week, I figured we’d tackle the topic of Thanksgiving food.

For the latter part of November, all food media, be it print, web, radio or television, turns into a “Hey You, Don’t Forget It’s Thanksgiving” feeding frenzy. Feature articles and episodes are devoted to recipes, tips and tricks that will help you ensure that this Thanksgiving is the Official Best Thanksgiving Ever.

Feel that pressure rising?

This will be the second year in a row that I’m not in the US for Thanksgiving. And this year I am so far removed from the realities of North American holidays that had I not seen a bunch of Thanksgiving themed food articles in my newsfeed, there’s a high chance I would have forgotten all about it.

My family was never one to do the traditional Thanksgiving roll out. In terms of Thanksgiving food, there was always some concoction of sweet potatoes, a cranberry salad of some sort and a rendition of a pumpkin pie, but only because those foods made seasonal sense; that’s why they’re Thanksgiving classics to begin with.

In an attempt to try to make Thanksgiving more official, one year my mother and I committed to cooking a turkey just for good measure, and the process was so time consuming and the result so boring (I mean really, of all the meats, turkey is not the most exciting) that it came to be lovingly referred to as The F*ing Bird. We never attempted to cook a turkey again, and these days I’ve gone mostly vegetarian.

And yet, I’ve always loved Thanksgiving. Not for the exact dishes that we eat, but simply because I get to sit around for a few days off with my parents, drink some good wine, eat some good food and just spend time unplugged. It’s not about what we eat, it’s the fact that we’re doing it together.

Over time I have found that there is a certain genre of Thanksgiving related stories that comes from people spending the American holiday abroad. There’s the account of trying to find a turkey, or if that’s impossible, something that will replace it. There’s the humorous tale of trying to bake a pumpkin pie when you don’t know how to translate the word pumpkin, and when you do, realizing that it’s not squash season wherever you are. There’s the embarrassing story of inviting a bunch of people around to experience a Truly Authentic Thanksgiving dinner, only to realize that you burned the pie, the bird and the stuffing (but the guests just ended up drinking more wine, so in the end, things turned out alright).

I always shy away from these stories with a hint of annoyance. Not because they shed light on the triumphs and tribulations of living abroad and trying to build community when far from home. My frustration has always come from the obsession with getting all the food elements exactly right. There’s no room for error and no room for creativity. If it’s Thanksgiving then a turkey has to be served and that’s that.

The same goes back at home, and yet our obsession with doing Thanksgiving “right” comes at a cost. According to the USDA, the average American family wastes about 35 percent of edible turkey meat. With around 248 million turkeys raised for slaughter in the United States, that waste comes out to about $282 million. Keep that in mind when you’re debating what size bird you “have” to get.

Food is a beautiful vehicle for transporting us back to certain memories. We bake pumpkin pie because it’s a reminder of a certain place and time. The smell invokes a sentiment, no matter where we are in the world. We stick to certain recipes because they remind us of the people that taught them to us in the first place. We’re reminded of our family and friends.

But in a quest for the appropriate dinner spread, we lose track of the goal at hand: to be thankful of what we have, to be present and spend time with people we love, to give to those less fortunate than ourselves.

No matter what food you put on the table this Thanksgiving, I ensure you that you will gather around it with your friends and family and have a wonderful celebration. Take the stress out of Thanksgiving food and you’re left with a wonderful dinner party. Cook in season, and cook what feels good, not what you feel obligated to serve. Create your own memories and traditions. And if you feel like baking a pumpkin pie a week after the Thanksgiving holiday, have at it. Seasonal food is comfort food for a reason; eating in balance with what the earth provides us is what we’re meant to do.

Food shouldn’t feel constricting, it should be a celebration. And that’s what I hope you get this Thanksgiving.

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This is the latest installment of Anna Brones’ weekly column at EcoSalon: Foodie Underground, an exploration of what’s new and different in the underground movement, and how we make the topic of good food more accessible to everyone. More musings on the topic can be found at www.foodieunderground.com.

Image: Satya Murthy

Anna Brones

Anna Brones is a food + travel writer with a love for coffee and bikes. She is the author of The Culinary Cyclist and Fika: The Art of the Swedish Coffee Break. Catch her weekly column, Foodie Underground.