Friday, November 27, 2009

A Sustainable Thanksgiving?

It seems to me that the idea of Thanksgiving is to bring people together and highlight the importance of close relationships. It is supposed to be a reminder that the things we should be thankful for are not really things, but people. Traditionally, bringing together loved ones on Thanksgiving also means providing a large amount of food for all to share. While feeding a large extended family can certainly require a lot, there is some sort of inherent fear among Americans of “running out of food.” Thus everyone tends to make far more than enough for the Thanksgiving feast. Preparing the food for this meal can be fun, and a bonding activity in itself, but it can also be stressful. The spirit of thankfulness of the holiday often becomes masked as something goes wrong in the kitchen and tempers flare. It is easy to forget that people, and not food, are what really matters on Thanksgiving. When one of those people that you hold dear is no longer there, the mask of materiality is easily removed – suddenly, providing a lavish meal with the best china no longer has any importance.

This year for Thanksgiving, my family decided to keep it simple. Rather than buying an exorbitant amount of food, the three of us opted to make pancakes for our Thanksgiving meal. While the ingredients weren’t local, and only some were organic, there was something far more sustainable in how we went about designing our dinner. We stuck with simple ingredients, ones that had been minimally processed such as unbleached flour and pure butter (rather than margarine). We made the meal from scratch, mixing the basic baking ingredients with fruit and nuts that we chopped ourselves. All three of us were involved in the making – someone stirred, another flipped the pancakes, someone prepared the table. And we made the right amount for the three of us – we didn’t have to worry about the presentation and making sure it looked like we had “enough.”

In a way, I feel our meal was very sustainable. At face value, we didn’t create a large amount of food waste and our simple ingredients overall were cause for less pollution than others. But I think more importantly, the manner in which we prepared the meal helped strengthen family ties – it was in keeping with the spirit of giving thanks for what you have. Sure, it could have been more sustainable. The ingredients weren’t local, the fruit wasn’t in season, and only some of the parts were organic. But the idea behind the meal was one of care in its making and consideration for others. These principals lie at the core of sustainability, in regard to food as well as everything else. After spending this semester trying to figure out how to eat sustainable, I have realized that just knowing the facts and buying the “green” labeled products is not enough. One has to understand the meaning behind it all, why we should even bother to eat sustainably. The reason is out of a care for others – a desire to share something wholesome and good with those who are with us, and to make choices that will allow those in the future to share these same pleasures.

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