I’m pleased to share this new essay by Amy Halloran. She wrote this for Thanksgiving—her perspective on gratitude and community—and how our perspectives are changed by service—is a message for everyday. Here’s Amy:
I used to be very invested in Thanksgiving. I spent weeks poring over new magazines and old cookbooks, thinking about how to combine flavors and make a mutt-version of sweet potato pie or cornbread stuffing that tasted just as I wanted.
I wanted some control of the meal, or at least the expression of ingredients. I wanted to look the farmer who raised my turkey in the eye. I wanted to give the food meaning and impose my current interpretations of gratitude upon other people that I ate with the last Thursday in November.
Last week I was keenly aware of how little I cared about the origins of the ingredients at my parents' Thanksgiving table. I didn't even crack a cookbook until Wednesday night, when I started hunting for some graceful combination of cranberries and cornmeal.
I am no less interested in sustainable farming, but I am not as ambitious about cooking for Thanksgiving, or using it as a platform for food thinking. My goals have mellowed because I get to influence a big meal every day of the year, cooking for the community meals program run by Unity House. Trying to cram as many vegetables as affordably as I can into dishes that are still enjoyed is my mission.
Preparing for our Thanksgiving meal, I worked with a number of volunteers. Hilton Garden Inn made our turkeys and sides, and brought lasagna the day before so we could focus on getting ready for dinner. An eight-year-old raised $400 so we could buy butter and fruit and collards. One team of people came in to chop vegetables and make pies. Another team made sweet potato hand pies for diners to take home.
As everyone worked, I noticed that I didn't fuss over outcomes. I showed people ratios and recipes, and let them go to town.
I realized that baking and cooking can be an expression of community, not just of self. Maybe this isn't a newsflash to you, but it's a headline for me, someone who used to think of Thanksgiving as a place to grandstand skills and ideas.
Amy Halloran is a writer and teacher, chef and cook, advocate and author. Her new book is: “The New Bread Basket: How the New Crop of Grain Growers, Plant Breeders, Millers, Maltsters, Bakers, Brewers, and Local Food Activists Are Redefining Our Daily Loaf” by Chelsea Green Publishing