All too often we lump the words thanks and giving together into one word – Thanksgiving. It has come to mean turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, cranberry sauce, and family. The word does little more than house the name of a holiday.
After spending an incredible evening with the Chicago Raw Community for their Thanksgiving dinner and then spending the actual holiday with my family, I’ve begun to reflect on the meaning of the words “thanks” and “giving” and on the holiday itself.
I love the idea of family, friends and communities getting together to celebrate and give thanks. How we chose to express that thanks varies greatly though. More often than not it becomes a gluttinous “beaching of the whales”, as eager thanks givers line up at the trough to gorge on seconds and thirds of greasy, buttery, gravy laden “tan” foods. Stomachs stretched to their elastic limit and the snuggly comfort of food coma in full effect, the whales beach themselves in front of the TV for the rest of the day… well at least until the call for dessert rings out.
The scenario above was all too familiar to me for most of my life. At the beginning of the meal I’d be thankful for all the food that I was about to devour. But by meal’s end I was pleading with some ultimate being that I’d be thankful if they just made this awful feeling in my stomach go away. By the middle of the next day I felt fine again, and I was thankful for this.
This year’s Thanksgiving was markedly different. For starters, it was the first Thanksgiving that I’ve attended with my family since I’ve gone raw. Secondly, there was something glaringly absent from the dining room table – the big bird. My family had decided on their own to forego the turkey this year and replace it with a Dr. Frankenstein inspired Tofurky. I was thankful that my family was beginning to make the connection between diet and health.
My contributions to the table included a raw stuffing that took a day and a half to make, a room temp coconut curry green soup, and some cranberry apple sauce. I made enough for the entire table of ten, but everyone was hesitant to try my strange concoctions. My dad was the first to jump in – he’ll eat anything. A look of surprise beamed across his face when he tried the stuffing and he encouraged everyone to try it. It wasn’t long before the entire table was going for seconds of the raw stuffing and leaving the standard issue alone. The soup was also a big hit, and served as the staple for our next two leftover lunches.
I was thankful that everyone was trying and enjoying my creations, so I thought I might return the favor. Afterall, my mother, grandmother and sisters had slaved away in the kitchen for an entire day preparing this bountiful meal, so it would only be fair to at least taste some of the fruits of their labor. I’d never even seen a Tofurky before, the whole concept kind of freaks me out, but I had to try at least a tiny piece. Well, you can’t have Tofurky without a small spoonful of vegan mashed potatoes (you heard right) and a tiny sampling of vegan stuffing (Tofurky sausage). It amounted to no more than two large spoonfulls on my plate. It was a symbolic gesture of gratitude, solidarity and blood being thicker than diet.
I didn’t make a big deal out of it. I simply reached for the dishes and rationed out a tiny bit of each plate. The room fell silent. Everyone watched as i put the fork into the food in front of me and brought it to my mouth. It tasted strange, but good. The textures were unfamiliar, softer than I’m used to. I was breaking bread. My mother was the first to speak. It was with great elation that she said “I’m glad to see that you are not perfect”. The rest of the family joined in a joyous chorus of cheers as they witnessed me fall off of my high horse. I was celebrating them. They were celebrating my demise. I stopped mid bite and I asked them why there were so happy. Their response – they were glad to see that I was still human. “Human?” I said. “In order for one to be human, they must abuse themselves with food?”. I was taken aback. Is this how Americans express their thanks? By commiting a slow and deliberate suicide with a Standard American Diet (SAD). How many times have I heard Grace before a meal in which the speaker states “we are thankful for our health” and then moments later I watch that same person causing tremendous harm to their health by the foods they choose to consume.
I think it’s time to find a new way to celebrate the giving of thanks. To be truly grateful and respectful to ourselves and our loved ones. To celebrate around health, family and community. To be stronger and more alive at the end of that day than we were at the beginning. To honor this gift of life that we have all been given.
I’m thankful for my health, for my family and for all of you who are reading this. You give me my purpose.