On November 21, 2014, I read an article about Thanksgiving in the New York Times, namely, how crisis negotiators advised people on how to deal with unruly family members. Perhaps no other American holiday has the same ties with food and family, and how contentious both can be, as Thanksgiving.
Thanksgiving, of all days, is a day centered around traditional food—you’re supposed to pull out the recipes that have been handed down from generation to generation, follow them quite closely, and present a Thanksgiving spread that hopefully will elicit comments such as “This tastes just like Grandma’s.”
Americans already joke (or somewhat joke) about how much they hate being around their families around the holiday season. Food seems to only compound this annoyance. Your aunt, who always rubbed you the wrong way when you were a kid, is now gluten-free and is appalled that there is no gluten-free stuffing. You never normally run into your vegan cousin during the year (he’s on the other side of the country, thank goodness), but now you have to listen to his yearly mantra on the evils of the meat industry (it wouldn’t really be so bad if he didn’t shake his head and proclaim, yearly, how ashamed he was to be related to a “bunch of complacent murderers”).
Food is a defining part of our lives, and it is incredibly easy for it to become tied up in our identities. Alternative “identities”, or food choices, almost become an assault on the mainstream. This is even more obvious with family; with friends, you cannot pass a certain boundary of involvement. You can only silently judge.
With family, that boundary is eliminated because blood brings a new element of caring and proximity. Taking on another set of food choices, separate from the family, is almost discarding tradition. With the proliferation of food restrictions and diets now, there are bound to be tensions at some dinner tables this Thanksgiving.
This year was the first year I had hosted Thanksgiving, and by “I hosted” I mean my roommate hosted at our place and I helped her. I think the easiest way to do it, considering we had 7 guests including one with dietary restrictions, is to make sure beforehand everybody can eat the main dish prepared by the host, and then delegate sides to guests pot luck style. That way the guest with special requirements can bring a side they can eat, and if the pie isn’t just like Grandma’s you can blame the aunty who baked… It worked out, and there was no fighting, yay. Hosting is tough work, I say. Make sure you always thank your host and have your finger ready to noes goes hosting next year.