One Thanksgiving in the 1950’s, my mother thought a diversion from the traditional holiday fare would add some pizazz to the standard menu. So she decided to substitute duck for the more traditional bird. As I stood in the kitchen, just eye level with the counter and watched the preparation of the meal, it suddenly struck me that the ducks I fed at the local park and that sizzling carcass in the oven were the same – The duck was A duck! I was horrified. My little girl brain process had been literal; bacon isn’t called pig and steak is not called cow, so it never occurred to me, really occurred to me until that tear-filled November morning that I was eating animals.
And that was the day I pulled the plug on eating anything with feathers.
That decision has expanded over the years to include cows and pigs and lamb and while I resist the label vegetarian or vegan because I eat dairy and fish (and still love leather shoes). I will happily answer to cheagan ( a cheating vegan).
I don’t have a problem with others eating meat. I don’t need to make a political statement or pontificate at every meal. I am not looking for converts. This choice is a private one and never a problem except at Thanksgiving when my eschewing the bird comes under scrutiny- with family, it is the eye roll accompanied by “Still not over that duck, huh?” or with an anxious new host bemoaning the fact that I will only “eat around the bird” and repeatedly asking “Do you have enough to eat? “
I have been exempt, for the most part, from hosting the holiday because no one wants a thanksgiving without a turkey and the discomfort I feel cooking a bird, has clearly manifested in some disasters. (i.e., not removing that nasty plastic bag of giblets before cooking).
Given that the turkey is not the center of my Thanksgiving, I admit the focus on its presence strikes me as excessive. Many say “It isn’t Thanksgiving without turkey!” I think it isn’t Thanksgiving without gratitude. So, it is with curiosity that I watch the stress escalate as that sacred Thursday approaches-first, it is the often heard low groan “I am having Thanksgiving this year.” What follows is the mad rush to the grocery store, the intricate math required to orchestrate all dishes being done at the same time and the seemingly impossible quest for lump free mashed potatoes. And of course, the main attraction-the PERFECT bird.
I can’t help but wonder if these rituals, rather than add to the celebration of gratitude, have simply become, well, a wild and crazy food fest. It is not gratitude we are experiencing when there is conflict over stuffing (better in or out?), philosophical discourse as to the “essence” of sweet potato (dessert or side dish?) or a lengthy discussion as to whether creamed onions are still “relevant”.
My Thanksgivings have not always been traditional-sometimes they were Chinese take-out, once a fancy Manhattan French restaurant, then there was a diner in Nebraska. Later I recall a cheese burrito purchased from a street vendor in Mexico where they don’t even celebrate Thanksgiving. Sometimes my Thanksgivings include going to the movies; once I volunteered at a nursing home. It took me a long time to realize that some of those non-traditional holidays were the best. I was freed up to focus on what was most important. Gratitude for food- just HAVING food-any food- and of course, good people with whom to share it.
In this season of giving thanks, please consider making a donation of food or money to your local food bank. In Connecticut approximately 10 % more people are now accessing food pantries than last year at this time.
© 2013 Donna F. Ferber, LPC, LADC is a psychotherapist in private practice in Farmington, CT since 1986. She is the author of the award winning From Ex-Wife to Exceptional Life: A Woman’s Journey through Divorce now available in Kindle format for $9.99 as well as in paperback.