Wednesday, November 27, 2019
I love Thanksgiving, especially in the years, like this one, that I get to host. I enjoy the process of writing a menu, shopping for ingredients, and setting a beautiful table. There are few things that make me happier than seeing people I love really digging in to food I’ve prepared for them. I’m happy when my adult daughter comes over, and I’m happy to see my mom. But there is something about Thanksgiving that make me feel uneasy. There is a whiff of - if not hypocrisy, then maybe willful blindness - that hangs around the Thanksgiving table.
Thanksgiving is a day of delicious excess, a national fantasy of happy peaceful families and endless sweetness, but the truth is often unpalatable. Enjoying an abundance of good things and being thankful for what we have is, of course, wonderful, and in no way a bad thing. Indeed, we’d all be happier and the world would probably be a better place if we came together more often to share our abundance and to give thanks out loud and in the presence others.
But it’s also important to acknowledge the realities that underlie the feast. These are manifold. Firstly, I acknowledge that to make this feast, a beautiful turkey had to die.
I acknowledge the work that went into raising him - this bird was raised on pasture by a local farmer, so I thank my neighbor for her work and expense. But I also recognize the labor of the people - mostly immigrants - who toil in the vast and dangerous poultry processing industry; I acknowledge their worth and affirm their right to safe working conditions and just recompense.
I thank my husband for the work he is doing right this minute - butchering the turkey out in the cold November wind. I acknowledge this is a disagreeable task and I thank him for being willing to develop the skill to do it well.
The vegetables on the table - the potatoes, the Brussels sprouts, the salad greens - are produced by an unsustainable system that abuses workers and the earth in equal measure. I am a witness, and I pledge to do what I can to avoid participating in those injustices and to mitigate the tremendous waste generated.
And finally, I acknowledge that I live on unceded land of the Lummi and Nooksack tribes. All of us settlers live on land that either was never ceded by the tribes, or which was ceded under deeply unequal conditions, in which one side held all the power. I acknowledge that uncomfortable truth. If you want to know on whose land you reside, visit this link:
https://native-land.ca/. I pledge to work toward correcting the grave inequalities that resulted by upholding the efforts of local tribes to sustain their culture and supporting their businesses and candidates for office.
None of this is meant to be a huge bummer.
It is possible to be grateful for our wealth while recognizing the problem of poverty. We can celebrate being together with family while knowing that some are lonely. We can give thanks for warm homes, abundant food, and all the good things in our lives without trying to shut out the knowledge of the many who lack those things. It’s not a sin to be warm, to be fed, to be loved. These are wonderful gifts.
My hope and my prayer is that naming our gifts and sharing them with our loved ones will inspire us to share them more widely, as well. I remind myself, as I bask in warmth and light, of the existence of cold and darkness not out of guilt, but so that I may be moved by gratitude and grace to expand the circle of warmth and light to include others. I remind myself, as I nourish my body with roast turkey, of the death of the animal I am eating not as some sort of penance, but to honor the truth that this act embodies the cycles of life and death on this beautiful planet, cycles we are all of us bound by.
May you be abundantly blessed this Thanksgiving. May you have much to give thanks for, as much as I.