So the coolest thing about being sick and having to do phone calls right now is having to add “it’s not the coronavirus” to every single conversation. I’m also currently taking a sick day - the first, if I’m correct, since at the latest last year, but I can’t find any evidence of me having taken one since 2018. That’s probably healthy, right? The problem with doing a job on the computer is that the actual physical barrier to work is very low, even if you’re not focused/feeling like garbage. Hell, I’m currently lying in bed typing this up, because I still have words in my brain even if my nose is blocked and my throat feels like I swallowed a frog.
Thanksgiving Plans and The Pressure Of Family
Tomorrow I embark on my greatest caper yet - smoking a turkey. It’s already seasoned and brined, and I already have it thawing (since Saturday, because it’s a big boy). I’m going to use this recipe which appears to be a basic slow smoke then generic 350 degree firing in the smoker which could be done in the oven if I had to. The one comment everyone makes is that they burned their turkey because they didn’t use a thermometer. Amateur hour. I’ve got four thermometers, hell, I technically have seven. I’ll stick them everywhere. I’ll put them in my own ear.
But for real, folks, there seems to be a “thing” going around, and this is just one example, of people talking about Thanksgiving food being bad.
I get it, you have space on your feed, you haven’t posted in 2 minutes, and you must find a new post or the bus that you are riding on will explode. You must post - and thus you will say something that will get people mad at you. It worked, I’m writing a newsletter talking about it - but you’re not the only one making this point. The classic argument is that the food isn’t good, you’re just associating good memories with the food and thus vastly overrating the quality of said food. The classic argument against these people is that they live in a family of bad cooks, and they are yet to try good turkey, or stuffing, or what have you.
The annoying thing is that I believe both can be true.
I do believe that people overrate certain kinds of food, or drinks, based on the emotional context and experience around them. I absolutely adore an icy cold bud light at a football game. It tastes better. It goes down smoother. It’s probably because I have fond memories of spending time with friends watching games and drinking it. The same goes for diner coffee - it always evokes a particular feeling for me, a warmth of friendship (and a literal warmth of coffee) whenever I taste what is most likely the aftertaste of an uncleaned Bunn coffee maker. Coffee in Vegas casinos tastes a particular way - again, I imagine there’s an emotional context, a memory locked in each cup that says “you’re having a good time, you’re free to eat, drink and be merry.”
I do not think that is happening with Thanksgiving. Really great turkey is truly distinct and delicious. The right combination of Thanksgiving foods in one mouthful - gravy, mashed potato, turkey - is amazing, and unique. I also have had really great Thanksgivings eating absolutely awful food, just the driest turkey, anemic mashed potato, total garbage, and I’ve had a great time. I also didn’t grow up in America - I moved here when I was 22, unless you count the year or so I spent at Penn State, and I had two Thanksgivings that year (I do not remember the food, I was also 140lbs so I didn’t eat a lot).
I think that this reductive, stupid argument that Ken Tremendous and others are making is just a way of trying to create an argument, but also sound smart. Oh we’re conditioned to enjoy that food, this is society. It isn’t society you fuckin’ dingbat. If you’re conditioned to enjoy food that was bad because of good memories, that’s how the human brain works. Taste/smell are powerfully attached to memory. If you had bad Thanksgivings you may hate turkey for that reason. Trying to make everything into some powerful political statement about how we’re all sheep is just boring.
I get that he may be framing this all as a reason to not travel for Thanksgiving, but that’s far more about “oh I have to go home for Thanksgiving.” The irony is that these things absolutely are a subject of conditioning - people feel that they have to go home for the holidays because their families pressure them to be there, even if their families are horrible. Families are made larger because people have kids that don’t necessarily want kids because their families pressure them into having children so that they can say someone has grandkids, which creates unhappy parents and unhappy children, who go on to have more kids because they’re pressured to have kids by the people who didn’t deep down want kids. Thanksgiving is a crux for all of these people to meet, and if people are conditioned to do things, it’s to have kids so that they can bring them all and show them off at Thanksgiving to their family members.
The reasons people are traveling are manifold. There is, of course, the thing about actually wanting to see their relatives. But everywhere - throughout the Farhad piece, for example - there is this pressure of having to show the grandparents the kids, showing the family the kids, showing your face so that everyone can say they saw you, that you participated. This is literally a description of family, and family gatherings, and I am being reductive, but the societal pressure of showing up for family just to show up, and doing things just to do things, exists far beyond Thanksgiving. This pressure is why people are traveling - they think they have to, because if they don’t someone will be dead next year (ironic considering the reasons people shouldn’t be traveling), or someone has “had a bad year.” I get it.
The pressures that many families put on children and relatives are brutal, and I think that focusing on food is the wrong way to go about it. I’m lucky in that my trips back to England are always positive, and I never felt the pressure of attendance for the sake of attendance (ooooh look at the loser who loves his family!), and I never felt the pressure to have kids other than wanting to. I’ve witnessed through other families how insidious this pressure is - the snide comments about “when are you gonna have kids?” or the even more offensive “when are you going to have another one?” by people who have neither the responsibility nor the ability to actually assist in the raising of said kid. The pressures of “when are you going to settle down?” to single family members. The “what’s your plan in life?” to those who don’t have careers. Or when someone hasn’t been seen in a while the nasty “oh, nice of you to show up.”
I genuinely believe some families get someone to visit for Thanksgiving (or any major holiday) simply to make someone feel like shit, or to laugh at them behind their back. The want them there so they can “have a talk” with them and say that they did their duty. The larger the family, the less likely they are to create any actual memories other than “we got together and that was nice I guess.” People love to say that X family member arrived and oh, they look bad. It’s gross.
Yes, you could say that I’ve witnessed too many negative events by proxy, but I know plenty of friends who have seen and discussed similar things with me. If you want to pick apart Thanksgiving, pick apart the pressure that comes along with it. Pick apart the reasons that people want family members to turn up - to get updates, to make people feel bad about their decisions, to “have a talk” with them over, say, actually enjoying being with them. That’s what sucks about Thanksgiving for some people. Not the food.
As a reminder, it’s very unlikely I’ll write again before next Monday. Sorry!