Thanksgiving is as American as a holiday can get. We celebrate our merciless colonialism through unapologetic gluttony while watching a sport nobody else in the world cares about. Somehow, despite the awkward reunions, the screaming children, the messes, the chaos and the overall insanity, it manages to be a day that we look forward to all year. All of the negatives are easily balanced out by the promise of forcing cool-whip laden pumpkin pie into an esophagus that is actually bruised from fourth helping of turkey.
|An appetizer for the pie.|
And thus I present the familiar cycle of Thanksgiving dinner. On one hand it is a celebration and a feast. On the other hand it is a brutal attrition where we must all come face to face with our id and admit that we are powerless before it.
Stage One: Denial
Thanksgiving Dinner starts before the places are all set and the kids are all wrangled to the table. It begins the first time you convince yourself that a particular morsel doesn’t count. It might be a tray of deviled eggs that looks asymmetrical. It might be a meatball in danger of falling off the plate. You might need to sample the stuffing just to make sure it’s ready for human consumption.
Of course none of this counts. You ate light leading up to the festivities and surely a small sample of all the goodness to come can’t be counted toward your actual caloric intake for the day. The meter doesn’t start running until somebody says grace.
Stage Two: Anger
Grace is said, thanks are given, the turkey is carved and the “pass the blank” ritual begins. Trays are passed overhead, silverware clangs, condiments and spices are applied liberally and gravy, sweet delicious gravy is slathered over everything in a steaming brown pool of deliciousness.
But there are protocols and they act against you. There are two classes of food on the table. One consists of all the good stuff; the turkey, the stuffing, the sweet potato casserole, the mashed potatoes, the buttermilk biscuits and the weird thing that only you like. The other is all the weird crap that grandma and aunt Bethany bring; fruit that’s been Han-Soloed into a Jello-mold, 9-bean salad, something gross with something grosser stuffed into it and pasta salad that has a sort of neon coloration.
Etiquette demands that you treat both classes of food the same. You’re more or less obligated to take at least a bit of every dish and that damnable spinach-loaf is taking up valuable real estate that could be holding more stuffing. There’s also a taboo about heaping eight spoons full of mashed potatoes onto your plate on the first go-round. Modesty thwarts your attempt at gluttony and you take economic portions for the first plate.
Stage Three: Bargaining
After the first plate, nobody is paying attention and there are no more illusions of restraint. If you ate the green bean casserole the first time through you’re allowed to fill your second plate with nothing but the good stuff. You’re also under no commitment to actually finish everything this time around so you can take a few extra collard greens just to cement your spot in grandma’s will.
But just as the social limitations start to melt, new ones arise. Your stomach, it seems, is finite. You’ve already devoured as much food as you do in the average 24-hour period, but you’ve got plans for your small intestine and they don’t include it quitting early. If you can mow through seconds fast enough you might be able to do a nothing-but-stuffing third course but that will never happen if you have to slow down for trivial things like chewing. You can already see uncle Mark eyeballing the last two deviled eggs and you’ll be damned if he’s going to get them without a fight.
It is here that digestive diplomacy begins. You reason that since your stomach stretches it should be able to fit in a few more helpings. After all, if that little Chinese guy can eat 100 hotdogs in a sitting you should at least be able to polish off the rest of the mac and cheese. You’ll try to convince your stomach of this as you continue to shovel more and more food between your aching cheeks.
If you glance around at this point, you will see that everyone is eating at the same begrudging pace. At this point it is less like you’re all celebrating and more like you’ve been sentenced to eat. Jaws and tongues will give out long before brains will give in and you will witness a subtle downshift in mastication speeds. You will beg your body to allow you one more biscuit and it will eventually concede.
Stage Four: Depression
Now begins the waddle of shame. Any other day of the year you would risk being forever ostracized as a rapacious, corpulent hedonist but today you are with your kind. You’re not sure if you unbuttoned your pants or if the button just gave up at some point, but either way they’re no longer fastened. You marvel at the untamed greed that you didn’t know you possessed as you crash back into the sofa.
You’re eyes make a valiant but futile effort to remain focused on the world around you, but fatigue is setting in and you’re stomach is making angry, hateful sounds. There are kids screaming and something breaking upstairs but you don’t care. Nothing seems to matter as much as absolute immobility.
You hope that sleep will come quickly so you won’t be forced to spend any more time reflecting on your reckless disregard for reason. You know now that you should have listened t your body the first time it suggested you slow down. You know now that the fourth helping of cranberry was over doing it. You look back at the ruins of the table and wonder how eating all that stuff ever seemed like a good idea.
And just as your eyes shut and the outside world fades away, a single syllable brings you back. It echoes in your ears and somehow drowns out all that nonsense about how you should have listened to your stomach. It blinds you to the pain of your insatiable mulishness and numbs you to the zeppelin-level bloating in your gut. The single word hangs in the air and suddenly you find yourself waddling back into the lion’s den following the promise of pie.
Stage Five: Acceptance
The array of deserts forces a moment of reflection. Can you learn a lesson and ignore it in such quick succession? You wonder if a person’s digestive tract is physically capable of performing a coupe de grace and when you determine that it isn’t, you grab a plate and load it up with pie.
This is where Einstein gets involved. You know that you’re still full, but you’re less full than you were a few minutes ago and relatively speaking, your hungry. It’s not actual hunger, but rather a level of satiety several strata below the one you peaked at. You mistakenly believe that this means that you can force down three slices of pie without consequence.
It only takes a few bites to shatter this fantasy and within seconds you’re in agony once more but it doesn’t matter. You’ve been looking forward to that pumpkin pie since before the Lion’s were losing and no amount of pain is going to stop you now. It doesn’t matter that you’re not enjoying it now because you know that you should. At this point it isn’t about taste or nourishment, it’s about being comprehensive. There is food and it is uneaten and you are on a mission.
Acceptance settles in as you move on to the Dutch Apple and for a brief moment gone is the grandiose notion of you as a moderate, restrained diner. You are a human goldfish. You will eat until they take the food away and no threat of hemorrhaging will stop you. You are insatiable. You’re appetite knows no bounds. You are a voracious consumer motivated by pure appetitive cravings with no regard for health or temperance.
You are America.
Happy Turkey Day everybody! Don’t forget to breath.