How to Make Every Meal a Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving in the US is steeped in nationalistic mythology and patriotic nostalgia. From images of early European settlers breaking bread with the Native tribes after a long, harsh first year to our modern family gatherings, Thanksgiving is our national day of gratitude. President Lincoln set aside the fourth Thursday in November in 1863 as a national day of thanks, and the tradition has continued to this day.

The best part of Thanksgiving is that it is primarily about the large family meal. Add the annual football game, and you have a family gathering that runs for most of the day. Then the following day the Christmas shopping begins. Only now it is beginning earlier and earlier, whittling away at our family time and shifting our focus from gratitude for what we have to the urge to go out and get more. This year, many major stores opened on Thanksgiving Day itself, pulling employees (and, sadly, many shoppers) away from their families before the holiday was even over.

I'm not going to go on about the negative impact of this trend, or what this bodes for our society as a whole. Enough other, better writers have already expounded  upon that in the last week. I'm going to share some tips about how to maintain the gratitude attitude and keep our attention trained on all we have to be thankful for.

1. Buy Raw Ingredients
This means purchasing fresh fruits, vegetables, and herbs rather than canned or frozen. And buy them whole. The same goes for meats, poultry and fish. Basically, if you stick to that outer ring of most grocery stores, you will find everything you need with the exception of pastas, cereals and grains found in the center. What else you find in those center aisles are prepackaged, pre-made meals of questionable nutrition and dubious origin. If you stick to that outer ring, you're also more likely to find meats and produce from local farmers if your grocery store partners with them (and many chain groceries do). Purchasing the local goods gives back to the community and makes the local economy stronger.

2. Then Learn How to Cook
If you have been eating the prepackaged, pre-made meals, you'll need to relearn how to cook. It's not as difficult as you think. A balanced meal of meat, veg and starch can be prepared in about 30 minutes - the same amount of time it takes to heat up a frozen entree or navigate the fast-food drive-through. And by preparing your own meals from scratch, you're taking control of your own destiny. There's no better preventative medicine than fresh produce full of vitamins. Plus, by prepping your veg, skinning and boning your meat, you reduce the amount of waste associated with your consumption.

3. Respect the Life You are Taking
Really, everything we eat was alive at one time, whether it's carrots or cow. My faith places a great deal of importance on respecting this. The best way to show respect is to use everything. Skin and bones left from prepping meat can be made into stock. Some parts of herbs and vegetables that are not appropriate for dinner can also be stocked. Giblets and other parts can be added to soups and sauces, or made into a simple pate with a few other ingredients. By using everything (or as close to everything as possible) and limiting what you discard, you are ensuring that the life that went into your meal is not wasted.

4. Only Take What You Need
The ultimate show of respect for the world we live in is to be grateful enough for all that we have to only consume what we need. Over-consumption is often described as the by-product of over-abundance. People who don't cook for themselves and rely on pre-packaged meals or restaurant fare may not know what an actual portion of meat looks like. If they are not getting sufficient nutrition in their food, it is difficult to recognize when to stop eating. This makes it difficult to know how much is enough. Shifting our reliance to raw food that we prepare ourselves helps restore some balance to our diets. We can then exercise accurate portion control and further reduce the amount of waste we generate.

5. Pay Attention
Many of us multi-task while we eat, dining over work, TV, games (myself included - I eat two of my three daily meals at work). This lack of attention to our food encourages mindless grazing and also interferes with our ability to detect when to stop. If you're buying raw ingredients and cooking for yourself, stopping all activities and paying attention to what you eat shows additional respect for the life that has gone into the meal and helps ensure you only take what you need. Plus you'll enjoy what you're eating a lot more.

Most of us in the First World are blessed with more abundance than we know what to do with. Even our standard of poverty is rich compared with those in the Third World. We take the ready availability of fresh, quality food for granted, often choosing over-processed meals that have been assembled in factories over the many fresh, real choices we have. The very best way to show gratitude for all that we have is to treat food preparation as a craft and each meal as an opportunity to connect with others and give thanks.