Thursday, November 27, 2008

Thanksgiving Gratitude

Another Thanksgiving meal has found its way into my happy belly, and I sit in bed now at my parents' house ready for pumpkin pie dreams and yam deliriums. I found this cornucopia on my mom's dining room table today and thought it would make a nice "of-the-season" photo op, though to be a real cornucopia, the bounty would technically need to be spilling out of a curved goat's horn.

Of course, scratch the surface of anything that seems picture-perfect and family-friendly, and you'll uncover darker matters that will certainly upset everyone's digestion. Like the myth of Thanksgiving, that picturesque first meal in which Squanto's folks and the Pilgrims passed around heaping harvest platters and set the stage for an unbroken national tradition of multicultural sharing and understanding (just as soon as we got over that pesky issue of clearing the Indians off the land). For a thorough attempt to set the Thanksgiving record straight offered up by a group of highly conscientious schoolteachers, click here.

But I don't really worry about ruining Thanksgiving for any of this blog's readers because everyone but elementary school kids knows that this holiday is really all about celebrating American gluttony and familial competition--eating as much food as you can fit into your stomach in one sitting and stabbing your sibling's hand with your fork so you can get to the last bread roll first. Who cares about our country's past crimes when we've got turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, stuffing, candied yams, green beans, cranberry sauce, and pie in our faces?

As I gazed at the vegetable centerpiece and reflected upon the meaning of Thanksgiving, I began to think about the strangeness of that entity known to us in the U.S. as "Indian corn," and why it is that corn with darker, multi-colored grains is known specifically as "Indian" when all corn (or maize) originally came from sustained cultivation by Native Americans up and down the continent.

This led into musings about how corn is my favorite basic food staple ("corn bread, hominy, polenta, corn soup, corn tortillas, corn on the cob, creamed corn..."), but then how it is also "America's most subsidized crop" and "the staple of its cheapest--and most troubling--foods," according to the site of King Corn a recent documentary about the problems of the over-corning of America by our bloated system of industrial agriculture. Michael Pollan has been one of the most eloquent advocates of reform of the U.S. agricultural policy that has resulted in the over-production of corn that is sold for less than it costs to produce and that ends up in much more of our food supply than we realize, causing obesity and reduced nutritional diversity. You can read more about it in Pollan's veil-lifting book The Omnivore's Dilemma or in this brief online essay. (That mysterious googly-eyed corn lives here.)

How can one cornucope with all this food anxiety? Was that too much pun-ishment to take? Then take a break and step with me into the Bay Area dining phenomenon known as Café Gratitude, where I shared a pre-Thanksgiving raw food meal with my friend David on Tuesday night. At Café Gratitude, you can be sure that all your food comes from happy, sustainable sources and will do something healthy for your body. You will also be forced to recite self affirmations as you order (the menu items are named according to the formula "I am" plus a positive adjective such as "elated," "satisfied," "warm," or "abundant"). Our server made us consider the question, "What do you love about your family?" before she would take our order, and while we hesitated a little at first, we both ended up admitting things we kind of liked about our families. And when you get to the bottom of your soup or quinoa bowl, you will be greeted with the question, written in swirly handwriting font, "What are you grateful for?" You may not want to join the cult, and you may have to snack on salami and cheddar cheese later on, but it's a nice thing to try every once in awhile, kind of like burning an aromatherapy candle or laying one of those buckwheat lavender pillows over your eyes.

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