by intern Grace Mitchell
When I lived in Paris, I received a kind recommendation to dine at a little place called Thanksgiving. Among other American delicacies, I was told I could eat a wonderfully luscious pumpkin pie. That was all fine and nice, but…living in Paris, I had much more inclination and desire to eat pains au chocolat before pumpkin pie. So I had no need to visit Thanksgiving.
Until, that is, I was invited to a Thanksgiving potluck and received my assigned contribution of cranberry relish. As a fruit native to North America, cranberries are hard to come by in Europe. But in Paris, so much abounds–and I was told to make a trip to Thanksgiving (a shop as well as a restaurant) to find some red glistening American imports.
I arrived at Thanksgiving where stood an entire freezer filled with Ocean Spray cranberries. Thanksgiving also stocked marshmallow sandwich spread fluff, condensed milk, Kraft macaroni and cheese, Betty Crocker blueberry muffin mix, and pop tarts, among myriad other prized American foods.
Bah! I was so ashamed! There I was in Paris, one of the pinnacles of glorious and history-steeped cuisine, and I had walked into the Thanksgiving store filled with fake foodstuffs from the United States, which no doubt existed to satisfy the oddly constructed palates of American ex-pats. I found myself horridly embarrassed to hail from a country with such a vile collection of revered foods. At least I was purchasing fresh and unadulterated cranberries.
Well. Not really. Witnessing those cranberries juxtaposed with so much food that had been tweaked, skewed, stripped, mottled, damaged, realigned, misaligned, hydrogenised, dehydrated, re-hydrated and so forth made me realize that those cranberries hadn’t had such a virtuous existence either. For all I knew, they grew from the far away state of Washington, only to end their bulbous lives with consumption by someone on the other side of the world in Paris–for the sake of unalterable tradition.
That is what makes Thanksgiving special for many people: the comfort-laden traditions manifest in the food and recipes we share that day. That is why we insisted on eating cranberries in Paris–because that was a tradition common to many of us.
But Thanksgiving is more about celebrating the joy in where we are at that moment, who we are with that day, and the harvest and bounty around us in that place. In our supermarketed world of today, we often forget to celebrate the latter, at least in its true sense. We didn’t need to have cranberries in Paris; there was plenty of food in Paris on which we could have feasted, and that would have celebrated the fact that we were having Thanksgiving in a different land. Those cranberries had become an emblem of superfluous excess and silly nostalgia. Oh, sure, I love cranberries. But there are other less tangible aspects of Thanksgiving that endow the day with greater meaning than unwavering insistence on eating something that doesn’t make sense for one’s time and place.