Is Guilt Winning Over Gratitude in America?

When was the last time you ate ugly food? Think about it for a moment. Does most fresh food you encounter look very pleasing and symmetrical? One of my favorite holidays is around the corner and I keep noticing that everything feels very political. Even Thanksgiving is a more political topic nowadays. Unfortunately, I don’t just mean the dynamics of the seating chart for the big meal.

In recent years, the United States has seen a shift in how it perceives itself. Gone are the days of feeling a sense of pride when “America the Beautiful” was played or being happy with just being an American instead of being a hyphenated American. This became abundantly clear when I heard Thanksgiving referred to as celebrating genocide. While I accept that what was done to the indigenous peoples of this land was savage and barbaric (the very things we called them), I think this points to a much larger issue.

Are we meant to pretend these atrocities didn’t happen? Of course not. We don’t have to cancel the entire holiday, like many things getting canceled these days. (What about having a reminder of what has happened in the past so that history does not repeat itself?). We do not have to feel so guilty about the actions of some of our ancestors toward some of our other ancestors that we can’t take a day to be grateful. To say nothing of the fact that this holiday is a time of traditions that many people love and look on with fond memories, it is also revered by some due to its more simple and less commercialized nature. There are no gifts to buy or parties to throw; you show up and share food and time with those closest to you.

Giving thanks and being grateful is not even in the vocabulary of most people today. Americans live in one of the most prosperous countries in the world. Let’s start with what most of us think about when Thanksgiving comes around: food. Many of us can choose from an almost unlimited selection of food. We can generally have what we want any time of the day or night, including a year-round supply of fruits and vegetables that our ancestors only had for a few months a year. We can even have food from around the world at almost any time we want.

There are hundreds of TV shows dedicated to food and how to prepare it, plus “competitive eating” or “food challenge” shows. People have even become YouTube stars with the whole schtick of “how much food can I shove down my gullet in the least amount of time”. This overabundance of food is unheard of throughout most of human history. The standard for 99 percent of all humans that have ever lived has been subsistence. Getting just what you need to survive.

We Americans have so much and seem to take this for granted. Americans waste 40 million tons, or about 30 to 40 percent of our food supply per year– mostly because the food doesn’t meet aesthetic standards. The food is thrown away because we have so much that we only eat the best of the best and we don’t give it a second thought. Yes, we toss it because it isn’t pretty enough. One could even argue that disregarding food because it’s not pleasant to look at is like canceling parts of our culture or disregarding pieces of our history we find distasteful. Maybe it makes some of us feel better but does it really make sense?

Of course, there are many people in the United States that don’t have that level of food choice or security, about 38 million of us, but a start toward solving that issue is recognizing that most Americans have everything that they need and take that for granted. If we all were a little bit more thankful for the things that we take for granted, we might realize that we could do with far less than we have and we as Americans could all be more abundant.

So, when thinking about Thanksgiving this year, instead of focusing on injustice from 300 hundred years ago and being outraged, maybe it’s time to start a new tradition: Take one day out of your incredibly abundant life to be genuinely grateful for what you do have and even the fact that most people you know can take food for granted. As a matter of fact, it’s right there in the name, Thanksgiving.

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