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I heard on the news yesterday that the average American will gain between 7 and 10 pounds during the holidays. That means that if you are not average you will either gain less than 7 pounds or probably substantially more than 10. It's a scary thought.
The problem is that for some reason, it is human nature to celebrate practically anything with food. This has been true since anyone bothered to record anything that merited celebration. I once read a long letter that some ancient Egyptian man wrote to his father who was living in another city. He gave a long description of some festival or other for one of their many Gods that was being celebrated while he was passing through town. It involved a great deal of pomp, circumstance, and ceremony, with a fleet of barges going down the Nile covered with flowers and lovely, young maidens. The son, however, wasted little time describing the maidens and devoted most of his letter to describing the massive amounts of food available to the celebrating crowds. This just goes to show you that some things never change. A young man away from his mother's cooking for the first time has always had an overwhelming appreciation of a good meal.
Pharaohs, kings, emperors, and potentates liked to throw food-centered parties to celebrate military victories. The Roman emperors frequently opened up the granaries whenever they needed to put on a show of gratitude and generosity. Even minor guys in charge liked to hold a feast to honor everything from marriages and victorious battles. The Vikings felt that a well-fought battle should always be followed by vigorous ingestion of food, generally supplied by the poor saps whose heads they were also using for a game of soccer in the hall. Cannibals probably celebrated victory with a feast as well,with the enemy as the main entrée.
Almost all religions held and still hold festivals and celebrations that require either massive amounts of food or very specific foods. This may be to make up for the periods of fasting that were often a part of the deal. The fact of the matter is that people were dangerously close to starving a lot of the time and that gave them a unique way of thinking about food as a real gift. The weather could be brutal, droughts were not infrequent, and crops failed regularly. Life was hard and food was a precious commodity. Back in the day, salt was worth more than gold.
Thanksgiving is a celebration of survival. The colonists managed to get through a nasty winter in the New World without at least half of them dying off. Crops actually grew and no one starved to death. That's a reason for celebration and that celebration naturally included lots of food. I doubt, however, that the menu was as extensive as the ones at modern Thanksgivings. A wild turkey, some corn, a few potatoes, bread, and some carrots were probably quite the feast for the intrepid colonists. I doubt if they had sausage stuffing, a variety of salads, cranberry sauce, and pumpkin and apple pie.
Sugar was largely unheard of and the Pillsbury Dough Boy hadn't shown up with crescent rolls yet. Something tells me that the Pilgrims didn't gain 7 to 10 pounds during the holidays.
The plain truth is that modern technology and agricultural science have provided us with a lot more food than our ancestors ever had; too much, perhaps, and not necessarily to our benefit in some ways. We eat too much sugar, cholesterol, and salt. We regular consume food that is too rich, too fatty, and full of preservatives. We have come to believe that we require more food than we actually do and as a consequence, we are overweight and obese. During these food-intense holidays we should consider how different life was for our ancestors, how fortunate we are to have what we do, and how tragic it is that there are still people in this world who don't have enough food on a regular day, much less a holiday. Then we should eat in healthy moderation and be thankful that we have so much food to resist.
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