Wednesday, November 22, 2006

war on thanksgiving redux

Here's a proactive approach to the decline of Thanksgiving as a national institution: sustainable agriculture.
Writing for Grist, Tom Philp discusses the growing trend toward prepackaged, ready-to-eat food and how it's eroding Thanksgiving, which traditionally has been America's premiere harvest festival and communal meal. It's true: With more of us than ever living in the cities, we have less connection than ever with food cultivation and harvest, and our familiarity with food preparation is also diminished.
The food industry caters to this by offering us meals ready to eat, and across the nation more people than ever will have professionally prepared Thanksgiving meals rather than one they made themselves; and, of course, the food industry eases the process of making these meals through poultry farms that churn out mass-produced turkeys in an endless stream of steroids and antibiotics. The genetic diversity of our livestock and our vegetables is going down the drain, and often the flavor goes with it.
Hence Philp's recommendation that we turn to sustainable agriculture to save the holiday. There are older "heirloom" breeds of turkey than those factory assembled by Butterball, and though they're rarer than their popular frozen cousins, often they have richer flavors than the bland fare we've grown accustomed to. Introducing guests and friends to these breeds -- and to the heirloom varieties of vegetables -- can be enough to raise the interest of others in these alternatives, and that in turn can fuel the market in sustainable agriculture.
I can attest to that personally. I'm not sure where I first tasted organic produce as an adult, but it was a homecoming for my tastebuds. I prefer to grow my own vegetables when I can, but if I have to buy them, I'll choose the organic varieties every time. The same is true of eggs and, when I've been able to find it cheaply enough, meat and poultry. I made a point this summer of visiting the farmer's market every Friday.
I wanted this Thanksgiving to find an heirloom turkey to serve my family and our guests. I didn't succeed at that, but I am going to serve homemade stuffing and gravy this year, rather than the stuff that comes from a box and a can, and I'm going to involve my children in the entire process.
That experience will renew the compact we have between ourselves and the land that provides our food, and among us ourselves. The time spent in deepening those connections will lead to a closer familial bond, and it will make us all more thankful for the things we have.

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