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Thu December 19, 2013
Food, glorious food... commentary from Joan Carris
In the musical version of Charles Dickens’s novel OLIVER TWIST, Oliver and his fellow orphans sing about the joys of food. “Food, glorious food, I’m dying to try some….” Lovely voices, but the kids look and sound hungry. Certainly the thin, gray gruel in their bowls has nothing glorious about it.
Those fictional children weren’t one bit fictional in Dickens’s mind, as he’d often been hungry as a child. His father, hopeless at managing money, was put in debtor’s prison—with his entire family—when Charles was only 12. Charles walked a very long way to work in a blacking factory to earn money for them all—a miserable time that lived forever in his mind and later in his written work. A Christmas Carol, which he wrote in 1843, features Ebenezer Scrooge,a confirmed miser who eventually sees the error of his ways. In a flurry of generosity, he calls first for “the big prize turkey hanging in the poulterer’s window” as a Christmas gift for the family of his poor, overworked employee, Bob Cratchit. Scrooge and Dickens focused on food first.
As you know, the early Pilgrims in America celebrated by eating turkey with the native Americans at the first Thanksgiving. My own family has eaten turkeys for Thanksgiving and Christmas as long as I can remember. Clearly, the holiday season is a bad time to be a turkey. If you’re born a turkey, it would be wise to stay small and stringy-looking, so that no one picks you. Those early American turkeys were wild and wily critters, hard to find and shoot, so they most likely were somewhat tough and stringy.
Over time, holidays have come to mean FOOD…and lots of it, not just turkeys. The “groaning board” is not only a phrase but also a reality. Families that are normally innovative turn into passionate traditionalists in November and December. Turkeys, hams, ducks, and other roast beasts are lovingly selected, prepared, and served—exactly like last year and every other year.
However, modern education has turned some of the traditionalists into critics. Your Aunt Susie won’t eat turkey anymore because the tryptophan makes her tired and grumpy. Beef is too hard to digest, she says…and How Can You Eat Pork? when you know that the pig is the smartest of all domesticated animals!! Her husband, Uncle Herman, is local chairman of PETA now, and wouldn’t go near a “murdered duck on a plate”—those are his words.
Major food historian Michael Pollan, who wrote The Omnivore’s Dilemma—an outstanding book—has this mantra: “Eat food. Not too much. Mainly plants.”
Man oh man, they’re coming at us from all sides, aren’t they? But Christmas is close now and I’m not listening. I love turkey and stuffing and gravy, cranberries and mashed potatoes. Hey, potatoes are PLANTS! And the pecans in my pecan pie came from the Powells’ trees in Gloucester, NC. The corn in cornbread stuffing was a plant. Cranberries are fruits from a plant.
SO…we can work around this! All ye who love traditional food, glorious food, stand your ground!