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The Angst in Giving Thanks

A Commentary By Froma Harrop

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Americans typically eat over 1,000 meals a year. But for many, Thanksgiving dinner seems to be the one that, like a magnet, gathers the iron shavings of every food anxiety. Why should that be? You'd think that this feast with family and friends would be accepted for what it is -- an innocent once-a-year gorge. In a country where disciplined eating is sadly lacking, why pile on the one time we traditionally throw caution to the wind?

Of course, much of the angst in giving thanks is media driven. There's no War on Thanksgiving. Rather, the media are battling the empty space on their pages or airwaves. Thanksgiving's unchanging menu leaves little room for serious innovation, so the only thing to do is tweak it like crazy.

Thus, features on how to not wreck one's diet on Thanksgiving have become as predictable as recipes for stuffing. With over 360 days a year to agonize over calories, you'd think that Thanksgiving would be given a pass as a day off. Eating rich food over the year may have put on pounds, but this one piece of pumpkin pie is a very minor contributor, you can be sure of that.

Every November, we see more Thanksgiving recipes for vegetarians. Again, if you're vegetarian the rest of the year, staying so on Thanksgiving should not be a big stretch. But this year, I spotted an odd bunch of recipes for having a vegetarian Thanksgiving dinner that's acceptable to children.

One presumes that children who live in vegetarian households don't need special accommodations on this particular day. My theory is that these recipes are for vegetarian cooks who have invited their meat-eating nieces and nephews for the holiday -- children who have come to expect turkey and might be highly resistant to substitutes.
Perhaps vegetarians shouldn't be hosting meatless Thanksgivings for turkey eaters. Perhaps they should wait for the day after, when they can serve cheese lasagna with no repercussions. (Vegans -- vegetarians who do not eat dairy products -- are on their own.)

There was another story about making the Thanksgiving dinner gluten-free. Found in several kinds of grain, gluten can inflame the small intestines of those with celiac disease. Presumably, someone who can't eat gluten on Thanksgiving can't eat it on other days, as well.

The same principle applies to pointers on having a heartburn-free Thanksgiving. What about this meal requires more care than the others?

Perhaps Thanksgiving raises all these dietary red flags because many Americans are out of practice on having long family dinners at home. Sitting for hours with others and having a large formal meal attached to old custom may be unsettling for some. A cell phone on the lap provides just so much escape. 

Added to the tension this year are encroachments on eating time, courtesy of major retailers. More chain stores are opening their doors for "Black Friday" sales at midnight, rather than, say, 6 a.m. Legend holds that Black Friday is the day that retailers supposedly start turning a profit for the year. Business being slow, they can't mess up.

Anyhow, these earlier times will give some Thanksgiving diners insufficient leisure to digest -- or take a nap, thinking that the tryptophan in the turkey did it. Wal-Mart has decided to open at 10 p.m. on Thanksgiving, forcing some bargain-hunters to choose between dessert and positioning themselves near the door for a fast sprint to the discounted camcorders.

How about a stress-free Thanksgiving? Leave the worry-making to the airlines and family members with "issues" that can't wait a day. Eat as much as you want, and give thanks that you can.

COPYRIGHT 2011 THE PROVIDENCE JOURNAL CO.

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