As Thanksgiving approaches, while everyone looks forward to the few extra days of freedom from school and work, most are equally excited for the feasting that will ensue. Whether its pumpkin pie, butternut squash, or stuffing, we all have that favorite dish we wait for all year long (or is it just me?) As the title suggests, this holiday asks of its participants to feel gratitude for what we have while enjoying the company of friends and family; but be it good or bad, the very essence of Thanksgiving is shaped by the food we associate with it.
Meanwhile in New York and New Jersey, pantries and donation centers that usually distribute Thanksgiving packages to less fortunate families are struggling this year. This responsibility took a backseat to providing food for families without basic necessities in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. Not only were the resources of food pantries diverted for this cause, but those who would normally donate were unable to, needing to harbor their finances and food for the storm. The Center for Food Action in Englewood, New Jersey is over 1,000 turkeys short of their usual quota, only just beginning to focus on Thanksgiving collections this week. Local residents are lucky to even have power restored, nevermind a Thanksgiving dinner.
Food security is defined as having money to buy healthy food, housing that includes facilities for storing and preparing food, transportation to locations with healthy food, access to food assistance programs, and social systems to support families faced with unanticipated barriers to healthy food. Not only does food insecurity impact well-being on a biological level, but it influences performance in education and contributes to social unrest. The unfortunate after-effects of Sandy in New Jersey and New York provide a timely (and tame) foreshadowing of what climate change could do to our health as well as our culture. Food insecurity is already a significant issue in the U.S, and its existence and severity here is dwarfed in comparison to food insecurity on a global scale. Extreme weather events further stress the issue, and it is sobering to contemplate the reality of a world in which natural disasters are common and an exponentially greater number of people are grappling for an uncertain stock of food resources. If this isn’t enough to make you think twice, at the very least consider it from a cultural perspective: the things by which the New England community defines itself (foliage, maple syrup, snow on Christmas, skiing, and even a turkey for Thanksgiving) are jeopardized.
As we submerge into our Thanksgiving food comas, let’s take a minute to not only be grateful for our food, but to remember those who are without food because of Sandy, and to consider what we might do to sustain the traditions that are important to us, and leave behind the ones that are harmful to the environment and, by extension, to others.