19 November 2012

New Feast

Post by Miriam Garcia

Recognize these guys? They’re the Adam and Eve of our national creation story, symbols of a season and a holiday, served up every Thanksgiving.  But wait, aren’t those fusty, intolerant, land-grabbing Puritans somewhat problematic as national icons?  Sometimes the best way to maintain tradition is to update it, so I visited the Farmers Market to re-encounter and re-imagine our harvest holiday symbols.

First up, that image of plenty, the overflowing cornucopia.  The settlers saw America as a land of infinite fertility and abundance – the game, water and land seemed inexhaustible.  Now we know that our resources are finite.  We appreciate the interconnected systems that must be protected in order for us to eat sustainably.  We know that local and sustainable is better than industrial and genetically-modified.  I see the new cornucopia as a market basket, overflowing with local goods.

Next, the turkey.  The turkey is so associated with Thanksgiving, some refer to it simply as ‘Turkey-Day.’  Turkey was a game-bird for colonists. It was a factory-bird for most of us growing up. Now it’s a personal choice.  Many of us enjoy our Thanksgiving feasts with no bird on the table at all.  And for those of us who do put a bird on it, the Farmer’s Market offers poultry that’s raised organically and humanely.  The new turkey is an honored guest.

The Pilgrims.  They’re complicated. A very American nuance of their story is that the Pilgrims came to these shores in pursuit of religious freedom, but Puritanism was itself an oppressive religion.  (Remember the Salem witch trials?) As a nation, we have grown more sensitive to the dark side of the Pilgrims’ story, especially the cost to Native peoples.  Looking around the market, I see people of many colors, ages, nationalities and traditions happily selling and shopping.  Perhaps the new Pilgrim is an immigrant seeking freedom and opportunity in a land of diversity.  Or maybe the new Pilgrim is you, me, all of us.  Wandering the overflowing aisles of the market, abundance all around, we get to be the Adams and Eves of whatever’s next.

Finally, there’s the feast itself.  Thanksgiving is a blend of ancient harvest festival, patriotic holiday and clan hootenanny, all of which comes together in a single, central ritual:  the family feast.  Whether we are in biological, blended, or chosen families, we make our various ways to the Thanksgiving table.  There we laugh, love, fight, feast, and further cement our bonds.  At the very heart of this event, tied closely to the Farmers Market, is ever and always the food. The new feast has traveled full circle to meet the original feast, a celebration of continuity sustained by the land we live on.

Miriam Garcia is a folklorist-foodie, freelance writer and guardian of a super-secret chicken soup recipe.  You can contact her at Miriam_G@me.com