As a dietitian- nutritionist, one might say it’s my duty to share the importance of holiday food safety. That all birds are cooked to a safe internal temperate of 165 degrees, that leftovers are refrigerated at the 2 hour mark or otherwise thrown out, and how to ‘lighten up’ or ‘smart swap’ many of our traditional holiday dishes for more healthful ones. But, I’ll save that for the other good dietitians and health conscious chefs of the country. This article will detail suggestions of how we might tap deeper into the original roots of the Thanksgiving spirit.
Rest assured that my family has endured their fair share of my holiday recipe modifications, err disasters. From artificially sweetened pecan pie, to low fat cream cheese icing filled pumpkin rolls (yikes!) and yes, we’ve even enjoyed a beautiful thanksgiving dinner with a Tofurkey on the table. On more than one occasion I was nearly exiled from my own family gathering.
If there’s anything I’ve learned through the years of modification exploration, it’s that the same food principles I apply the other 360+ days of the year should hold true when it comes to the holidays and we need not go to any additional lengths to make our food choices healthful.
Principle #1 – Real Food First – That means food as close to the source and you can find it. For me that means a wild turkey or venison harvested from my family’s farm. Paired along side an abundance of veggies and whole grains, with little room for any fillers.
Principle #2 – More Color than Not- Green beans picked and canned from this past summer’s garden, sweet potatoes, brussel sprouts, carrots and other root vegetables, a variety of squash and greens grown by my fellow WV farmers will decorate our plates, rather than produce grown several countries away, packed in high fructose corn syrup or iodized salt and shipped to the nearest big box store for my convenience.
Principle #3- Enjoy with Mindfulness & Moderation – Yeasty dinner rolls that rise above the warm stove as the bird slow roasts in the oven with a bounty of summer’s herb harvest. That also means, enjoying without guilt, small spoonfuls of whatever other sweet and savory dishes my family members might bring around only once or twice a year that typically wouldn’t frequent my plate. [Read, dessert. Lots of dessert!]
To that end, there have been several Thanksgiving’s I’ve spent without my own family, either traveling or living abroad. These experiences have provided a lens to see that Thanksgiving can be celebrated in man ways. Beyond the food principles I’ve learned to uphold, regardless of my location, what I’ve come to value even more about Thanksgiving and attempt to incorporate into day to day life beyond the holiday season, is my personal idea of what giving thanks really means, well beyond the food we are so fortunate to enjoy with friends and family. That is, a soulful celebration of a mind filled with gratitude, a body fueled by sustainably harvested and locally sourced foods, and that the original spirit and intention of the holiday remains at the center of the table – Gratitude.
Below I’ve shared a few tips on how I’ve learned to make these things priority and in return, gain more from my holiday beyond a full belly…
· Turkey – A mainstay on most Thanksgiving tables. Consider finding a bird that’s been raised and harvested mindfully as our forefather’s would have enjoyed. Not only will you have given thanks for the sacrifice, but you can rest assured the bird, and therein your family’s bodies, will have lived free of artificially injected hormones, antibiotics, and synthetic additives. Heritage or free-range turkeys roam freely on the land, are genetically diverse and enjoy a varied diet that Mother Nature intended.
· Beverages – Enjoying drinks from autumn’s harvest, or those gathered and prepared locally can make for a meal with better balance, both nutritionally and in food-pairing harmony. Consider sipping locally sourced apple cider cut with sparkling water as your company gathers into your home, enjoy a local, craft brewed beer as your passing football with the family or post Turkey Trot 5K, or serve a sun tea made from a variety of leaves, roots and berries plucked from your back yard.
· Decorations and Entertaining – Fewer occasions call for the need to bring out the fine china or your mother’s hand me down dinnerware, tablecloths and napkins. Steering away from holiday printed styrofoam cups, plates and plastic cutlery and decor that abounds, opting for decorations like gourds, pumpkins and dried corn that nature provides and can be given right back to her may be a way to celebrate with a lower environmental impact and more conscience enjoyment.
· Revisit the Reason for the Season – The first Thanksgiving was a coming together of brothers, friends, and neighbors to collectively impart gratitude for all there was to be thankful for. Think of expanding upon your traditional guest list by inviting someone new to share, learn and celebrate the bounty of the season with. Not only may you enhance friendships, you could keep them off the roads or with shorter travel and a lower carbon footprint.
· Be Gracious – Gratitude is a word that can easily be throw around more than applied at times. The neatest thing about gratitude is that the more we apply it, the happier we, and the rest of the world becomes. When we invest our thoughts and energy into what’s wrong or wretched about the world, the more wretched it becomes. When our thoughts and actions are invested in what’s right, with repetition, gradually that becomes the world we live in. But, don’t just take my word for it. I was a skeptic once myself. Try gratitude out for yourself and allow goodness to surround you and your family.
· Give Thanks – Incorporate a bit of heritage into your celebration by sharing a passage from the Iroquois Thanksgiving Prayer, reminding us that we should ‘return to our mother, the Earth, which sustains us.’
An Excerpt from THE IROQUOIS THANKSGIVING ADDRESS
The Earth Mother:
We are all thankful to our Mother, the Earth, for she gives us all that we need for life. She supports our feet as we walk about upon her. It gives us joy that she continues to care for us as she has from the beginning of time. To our mother, we send greetings and thanks.
Now our minds are one
The Food Plants:
With one mind, we turn to honor and thank all the Food Plants we harvest from the garden. Since the beginning of time, the grains, vegetables, beans and berries have helped the people survive. Many other living things draw strength from them too. We gather all the Plant Foods together as one and send them a greeting of thanks.
Now our minds are one.
We gather our minds together to send greetings and thanks to all the Animal life in the world. They have many things to teach us as people. We are honored by them when they give up their lives so we may use their bodies as food for our people. We see them near our homes and in the deep forests. We are glad they are still here and we hope that it will always be so.
Now our minds are one