Yesterday was one of my favorite days. I don’t think I’m unique in loving Thanksgiving — there’s just something about the ritual of sitting around a table with people, be they friends or strangers, sharing food together. I like passing the potatoes. I like the community. I like the idea of us collectively taking a big breath in as a nation and thinking about what makes life truly rich.
Last year, I spent Thanksgiving fresh off the trail, having spent two weeks camping in Utah’s canyon land, and was amazed to wake up to warm toes and hashbrowns in Prescott, Arizona.
This year, I was just at the bottom of the hill at a friends’ house here in Tamworth, New Hampshire. They have a wonderful bond with their neighbors and so all were over for the good meal. Most of the food, in fact, was all grown by them in their shared garden — potatoes, beets, celeriac, squash, brussell sprouts, kale, onions. The cranberry sauce was made from berries harvested up the road (in the local bog!) and even the turkey had been raised and butchered by them.
The funny thing is how normal this has become to me — to be eating what you grow and raise. I knew nothing of plants and animals when I lived in Chicago. I couldn’t tell you growing seasons for vegetables. I paid no attention to how far my blueberries had traveled to my table. I didn’t know that cucumbers are sort of spiky and I certainly had no clue how to kill a pig.
More poignantly, I can recognize a change in my relation to meat. I see what I eat as animal now — not just as a strange, never-living protein object. The fine bones in a salmon’s muscles remind me that he once fought his way upstream. The chicken once tucked her head into those buffalo wings. The fatty bacon strips were once a pig’s belly, laying lazily in the mud.
It’s hard to eat animals. It’s particularly hard when you’ve known them. But I think it should be hard. We should care. We should feel the weight of our choice to eat them and to approach the table with some reverence.
Recently, I picked up A Hunter’s Heart: Honest Essays on Blood Sport. Hunting as a means for subsistence has fascinated me ever since my summer in Alaska last year. (There, they literally have a hotline to call when you’ve hit a moose with your car. The hotline calls the number at the top of the waiting list to come field dress the moose. Anyone can join the list. It’s sort of like winning the lottery except the currency is meat.) And, while the relationship between hunter and game is different than farmer and livestock, I’ve found that both adhere to the same ethics of eating animals.
Gary Snyder, in his essay “The Practice of the Wild,” says it best: “Other beings…do not mind being killed and eaten as food, but they expect us to say please, and thank you, and they hate to see themselves wasted.”
Yesterday all fifteen of us we went around the table and, as is the tradition in many homes on Thanksgiving, said what we were thankful for: the beautiful food; the loving hands that made it; the chance to all be together. My favorite, though, was eight-year-old Ben’s: “I’M THANKFUL FOR THE…THE TURKEYS!.”
What a wise guy. I don’t think I had that wisdom as a kid, but I can say it today: I’m thankful for those turkeys, too.