Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Thanksgiving Edition: Origins of the Tamayo Thanksgiving and Postcolonial Reflections

In the past month, whole food advocates have suffered severe attrition from the political landscape. In sum,  pizza (with enough tomato paste) passes as a vegetable in school lunches, the USDA is cutting back on critical research, consumers have been fed mislabeled fish, and the Super Committee's failure could mean serious cuts for the FDA.

As I schlepped through my Thanksgiving food shopping this morning, a dark, dismal cloud of despondency hovered over my head, my negativity worsening with every processed food purchase ringing at the registers. Notwithstanding the holiday's ignoble origins, Thanksgiving was my absolute favorite American holiday. My family didn't celebrate until years after we immigrated to the States, mostly because we felt detached from its apparent purpose - to commemorate the friendship between the Pilgrims and the Native Americans with a golden turkey. What the hell did that have to do with us? Between working two jobs, raising three kids, and supporting a spouse studying for the medical board exams, my mother felt the holiday's demands to conjure a feast for patriotic purposes absurd and frivolous. As an adolescent, I felt alienated from the other kids who excitedly chatted about their Thanksgiving plans and returned from the long weekend with Guinness World Record feats of eating. 

My family soon caught on and thought it was a good reason to have turkey and my grandfather's famous baked ham. Turkey soon disappeared from the menu and the ham remains the porcine prize of the dinner table, flanked with white rice, my grandmother's incomparable pancit, my leche flan, and my mother's fruit salad. Over the years some experimental dishes would appear - candied yams, spinach lasagna, stuffing - but the five Filipino dishes have a fiercely tenacious presence on Thanksgiving. An extra holiday (other than Christmas and New Year) when we had the chance to weigh our plates with these dishes sounded like welcome news to me - without the mad rush of Christmas gift-giving and the unavoidable reflection of the past twelve months of the New Year. Give thanks and eat. 

Now it seems like a serious serving of cognitive dissonance is necessary to derive pleasure from the holiday. Was that beautifully dressed ham processed in the Smithfield plant in North Carolina, where pig manure runoffs pool into "lagoons," contaminating the drinking water and the soil? Besides questioning the source of our food, I lapse into the self-flaggelation of privileged guilt: One billion people on earth are starving and I refuse leftovers? 

Perhaps I will never reclaim that politically insular sensibility, which kind of sucks. I guess that was the tradeoff: a privileged existence living in a "superpower"nation, while fighting for our right for access to  wholesome food, surrendering a humbler life with a basket full from that morning's catch from the sea.  

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