For most of us, Thanksgiving is the only holiday of the year centered on giving thanks for what we already have, our families and our friends. It is also the only holiday I know of that has food as its major focus.
For a lot of us, the holiday means eating turkey. For others, it may signify a feast that involves other meats, tofurkey, or simply fruits and vegetables. But in all of these cases, we depend on nature’s plants and animals.
So alongside all the funny turkey videos and Thanksgiving facts, I’d like to share with you these words from American farmer, novelist, poet and environmental activist Wendell Barry. In his essay “The Pleasure of Eating,” which appeared in his 1990 book What Are People For?, he makes a case for eating with understanding and gratitude:
“The pleasure of eating should be an extensive pleasure, not that of the mere gourmet. People who know the garden in which their vegetables have grown and know that the garden is healthy will remember the beauty of the growing plants, perhaps in the dewy first light of morning when gardens are at their best. Such a memory involves itself with the food and is one of the pleasures of eating. The knowledge of the good health of the garden relieves and frees and comforts the eater. The same goes for eating meat. The thought of the good pasture and of the calf contentedly grazing flavors the steak. Some, I know, will think it bloodthirsty or worse to eat a fellow creature you have known all its life. On the contrary, I think it means that you eat with understanding and with gratitude. A significant part of the pleasure of eating is one’s accurate consciousness of the lives and the world from which food comes. The pleasure of eating, then, may be the best available standard of our health. And this pleasure, I think, is pretty fully available to the urban consumer who will make the necessary effort.
“Eating with the fullest pleasure—pleasure, that is, that does not depend on ignorance—is perhaps the profoundest enactment of our connection with the [natural] world. In this pleasure we experience and celebrate our dependence and our gratitude, for we are living from mystery, from creatures we did not make and powers we cannot comprehend.”
I hope this Thanksgiving that we all eat with gratefulness for the lives and the soil from which our food comes, and that we pause to appreciate those things on which we all depend, from other animals to our planet’s condition and climate.
May you have a very healthy, nutritious and thankful Thanksgiving,