Thanksgiving celebrations are not a great place to discuss politics. You are probably not going to convince your uncle/aunt/sibling/parent, during a single meal, that their deeply held convictions are actually completely wrong — and vice versa. I sincerely hope that you don’t have to spend the holiday with anyone who doesn’t already know this.
When it comes to cooking, though, holidays like Thanksgiving offer an opportunity to both educate and learn. After all, culinary cultural exchange is the primary theme of the holiday. So while people have some pretty specific guidelines defining the meal, it’s possible to sneak in some new tricks.
(I really have just one agenda here: to get people to eat more vegetables*. And since there is no publicly or privately funded organization tasked with increasing vegetable consumption, the onus falls entirely on…you.)
Obviously I’m not talking about surprising your omnivore friends and family with a vegetarian feast. You may as well bring up the death penalty during the main course. And while you can decide to “improve” something you don’t like much — say by adding garlic to the mashed potatoes — you will probably make someone mad if you don’t make two versions.
A better option is to diversify around the margins. And since vegetables — other than potatoes — are not a defining element of the historical Thanksgiving dinner, you can get away with more creativity with them. One of the first times I cooked anything for a family meal I made roasted winter vegetables, which I was told was “fine” but that “no one is going to eat any of it anyway”. A decade later it has become a standard part of the holiday meal.
Because Thanksgiving is a smorgasboard or buffet setting, many people are tempted to try a little of everything — especially if the additional dishes are “just vegetables”. You may have to avert your gaze, however, when a friend or relative proceeds to dump gravy all over your carefully seasoned glazed carrots or tops your kale salad with lots of turkey. And don’t forget that you also have an obligation, er, great opportunity to experience other people’s culinary innovations. They may become your next favorite food.
New studies of human remains from Europe are showing a clear link between the introduction of agriculture to the region and the fairly rapid alterations in human DNA related to height, digestion, skin color and immune system. It seems a defining trait of the human race — down to the molecular level — to constantly encounter and adapt to new foods.
The three-plus centuries since the first Thanksgiving have likely been the most concentrated dietary diversification in human history. That seems like something to celebrate.
Have a great Thanksgiving,
* — I admit this is a serious conflict of interest.