Are you cooking in or dining out for Thanksgiving? This question is loaded with more than gravy and cranberry sauce! Our national holiday of Thanksgiving is traditionally a day of feasting and community with extended family. (Yes, I am purposely ignoring the televised sports aspect.) Ideally, there are sufficient family members who contribute and share in the preparation for the festivities. These days, though, more and more restaurants offer catered dinners for the day and are open for dining in. A good thing? Maybe.
I am a strong believer in the essential goodness of food prepared at home, and of the community building aspect of sharing food and conversation around the dinner table. However, my reality does not always live up to my beliefs. I am a single “head of household” with two jobs. The two family members who live with me are not willing or able to prepare meals. The third family member with whom I often share holidays chooses not to cook. This usually leaves me in a position of wearing myself out as the sole planner and preparer of the festivities and not able to enjoy the gathering, or of choosing restaurant dining with its attendant foibles. Why is restaurant dining a less desirable meal? Here are some deeper thoughts on this issue.
Deng Ming-Dao says in 365 Tao: Daily Meditations:
In cultures where personal contacts are more meaningful and closeness to the earth is a way of life, it is no surprise that people are interested in a complete relationship with their food. They buy it or raise it, they harvest it, they clean it, and they cook it–all before they eat it in gratitude. They don’t become sentimental over their food–practicality is to understand that we kill to survive–but they do give thanks for what has died to sustain them.
Today we have a very incomplete relationship with our food. We don’t see where something grows, we eat foods out of season, we buy prepared foods made by someone we don’t even know. There is a great power in knowing your food, knowing where it came from, preparing it with your own hands. This food, whether vegetable or animal, died for us. The least we can do is partake of it thoroughly and with respect.
Nowadays it is quite common for people to feel isolated. They lament not having friends, not having genuine experiences, not having a sense of who they are. If even the food that we eat and the way that we eat is lacking in wholeness, then how will we feel completion in the rest of our lives? (Tao #277)
At least one of my sons has a differing opinion. He believes that with the work-away-from-home structure of our modern lives, it makes more sense for food preparation to be centrally prepared in large quantities for purchase, rather than for individuals or small families to have to spend time in food preparation on a daily basis. This plan frees the limited time we have around work for other activities. (Lucky for him, his wife has a job in a natural foods store that includes a generous deli department. This connection adds an element of locality to their prepared food purchases.) And all three of my sons have a preferred other activity–playing board games! As they proclaim, sharing in playing games builds community, as does sharing a meal.
Deng Ming-Dao continues his thought on food and place with Tao # 320:
Why were people of old so integrated with their surroundings? Because the objects that they used, the food that they ate, and the activities that they engaged in were straight from their surroundings. They used sticks made from [native wood] as eating implements. They used vines to make baskets. They used gourds as vessels. For food, they grew plants, domesticated animals, and caught fish and game. Their social structure was built around the cycles of the sun, moon, and stars. Newborn babies were washed with waters of the nearest stream. The dead were buried in the same earth that provided sustenance.
Now our food is imported from distant places and elaborately processed. We have no idea where objects we purchase come from, thinking that their presence and convenience is all that is necessary. We have means of transport that can bring us to places faster than our minds can adjust. We abuse our wealth and use it to insulate ourselves from our surroundings.
That’s why being of modest means is not necessarily bad. When one is poor, one is forced to use what is at hand. . . . The closer we can be to the earth and to nature, the more integrated with life we shall be.
Okay, as much as I would like to return to rural 1840, I know that is unrealistic and that I have romantisized expectations of the time. So, is eating at a restaurant for Thanksgiving a bad thing? I think that like being poor in the passage above, we have to make use of what is at hand. I have made the best choice I can for a location for an enjoyable family dinner. I hope the wait is not so long, it is not too noisy, and I will mourn the lack of leftovers to provide additional meals. I will graciously thank the growers, producers, cooks, servers, and others involved in providing the meal for my family. I will greet others who I do not know as they partake of this holiday feast at the same location. I will appreciate the disorientingly fast transportation for reuniting far-flung family members. Perhaps my family will re-convene after our meal at one of our apartments for games. We will admire and appreciate the upgraded game pieces that were artistically handmade by one of our group. Perhaps we will even contemplate who manufactured the forks we take our delicious bites from, and where the plates originated.
My gratitude goes to you, my readers and followers, for making my blog–my creative outlet–a successful one. May you enjoy food that satisfies your body and soul, and may you benefit from community with those you hold dear as well as benefitting unknown people in need of community.
Ming-Dao, Deng. 365 Tao: Daily Meditations: 1992, Harper Collins, New York.