In defense of holiday gluttony

When I was a kid, my grandmother made at least five different kinds of pie for Thanksgiving. They seemed to magically appear as soon as everyone had finished dinner, an array of lattice crusts and whipped toppings stretching from one end of the table to the other. There was pumpkin, pecan, cherry, apple, chocolate – a veritable dessert buffet.

“Have as much as you want,” she used to say. “There’s plenty.”

She didn’t need to tell me twice. I never cared much for turkey, cranberry sauce, or stuffing, but when it came to dessert, I was unstoppable. Before family gatherings, my aunts forgot about their diets and baked amazing sweet treats that I didn’t even know existed. The Thanksgiving I discovered cheesecake, for example, I sat on the kitchen floor and ate the whole thing, savoring every bite of that smooth, creamy filling with tart cherries on top. It’s one of my happiest holiday memories.

Because I ate healthy the rest of the year, it was okay that I channeled Homer Simpson on Thanksgiving. My mom was a health nut before health nuts were cool, ensuring all five food groups found their occasionally irritating way into my diet. My dad grew his own produce in the backyard, so my brother and I ate fresh vegetables with every meal. We drank fruit juice instead of soda. In the summer, when we were bored, we played outdoors. Unlike my friends, I wasn’t allowed to eat Twinkies or Lucky Charms. Sometimes my mom would buy Doritos, and the bag would sit in the cupboard for weeks.

That made Thanksgiving feel like an epic cheat day. Even my mom got into the spirit, baking pumpkin bread, frosted sugar cookies and fudge. The cookies were my favorite because I got to help, rolling the dough thin on the kitchen table and cutting it into the shapes of Christmas trees, reindeer and Santa Claus. Because it only happened once a year, the influx of junk food felt like a wonderful treat instead of a way of life.

As an adult, I’ve continued to view the Thanksgiving feast as a treat despite many cultural criticisms of holiday gluttony. It is no secret that, on the whole, Americans are a wasteful bunch, and some of the culinary luxuries we enjoy on Thanksgiving we could certainly do without. But instead of focusing on curbing consumption for one day, I think our time would be better spent paying attention to what we eat and how we behave throughout the year. Instead of hitting McDonald’s for lunch, try the salad bar, or take a walk to relieve stress instead of inhaling a pint of Ben & Jerry’s. It’s little changes like these that will have a long-lasting effect on our health and wellbeing, not hurting Grandma’s feelings by pushing away her blackberry cobbler.

As for me, I fully intend to say yes to that second slice of pumpkin pie and follow it up with a long, drooling tryptophan coma on the couch – and I won’t feel the least bit bad about it.

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