Perhaps you’ve heard this story by now that one of our most brilliant founding fathers, Benjamin Franklin, lobbied to have the wild turkey be our national bird rather than the bald eagle. When I think about it, how un-cool would that be to have a turkey be symbolic of all that is American? But Benjamin Franklin knew a different turkey then you or I do today. Indeed, if you’ve ever seen a wild turkey you would surely conclude that it’s a very interesting bird. These creatures are big, kind of clumsy and appear completely un-designed for flight. When they fly, they make a heck of a lot of noise. When they’re on the ground or in trees, they’re whisper quiet. Wild turkeys might very well be the easiest prey for the worst hunters. For the Native Americans and the early American settlers, a wild turkey in sight pretty much meant a guaranteed meal.
Nowadays, the turkey you’ll eat at Thanksgiving can’t fly at all. It has absolutely no street smarts. The turkey companies will birth, harvest and sell millions of these flightless birds in the next handful of days. How times have changed. As I prepare to host friends and family for the Thanksgiving event, I like to search for meaning that can sometimes be overlooked in the holiday chaos. Some of our guests are vegans. Some are vegetarians. Some are carnivores. Some of the carnivores don’t eat gluten. The vegans and vegetarians don’t mind gluten – they just don’t like the dead bird. I assume there will be many different dishes on the table to accommodate the various nutritional philosophies present. Can you imagine a bunch of pilgrims dealing with the same issues?
I’ll admit that there’s a part of me that feels guilty at a Thanksgiving feast. I know there are plenty of people out there who are hungry, starving, and in need. Can I really celebrate this holiday in an opulent way while over 50 million Americans are living in poverty? And how can I celebrate a memorable day that ostensibly recognizes the graciousness of Native Americans who helped save the hungry European settlers while those same settlers have been anything but kind and gracious towards their hosts?
As far as I can tell, we live in a chaotic world. Sometimes it seems that there’s no justice. Sometimes it seems that life just isn’t fair. And it’s a sure bet that at any given time in human history, there are always the haves and the have-nots. It’s a spiritual challenge to be thankful for what we have, while holding and embracing in our hearts the enigma that others in the human family seemingly have far less to be thankful for. It’s a moral conundrum to feast while others about us are in famine.
So this is why the “thanks” and the “giving” in Thanksgiving are so important. Gratitude for what we have, for anything and everything that we’ve been given in this life is one of the most important spiritual nutrients. Oddly enough, it’s not the kind of nutrient you ingest – it’s the kind of nutrient you feed back to the environment. It keeps the gods well fed, and willing to bestow upon us even more.
When my parents and grandparents grew up in this country, they were called “citizens.” Today we are called “consumers.” The word “citizen” implies an active participant. The word “consumer” implies something that spends its life cycle devouring. Let’s just stick a fork in this label called “consumer” and consider it done and over with. Be a cosmic activist. Give thanks. Be gracious. Sprinkle a little bit of humility in the stuffing. Bless the chaos that is humanity. Give some love to the meat eaters and vegetarians alike. Drink the wine. Don’t drink the wine. Feast. Overeat. Go on a diet the next day. Or maybe just eat the salad. Feel guilty. Love yourself. Pinch your body fat. But amidst it all, take just one moment, a personal one between you and the divine, and give thanks for the life you’ve been given.
Founder – Institute for the Psychology of Eating
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