Sunday, November 25, 2012

Half the World and Thanksgiving

Last Thanksgiving Eve, a friend described a childhood tradition she'd bridged into her own family, one that was striking and humbling in its nature.  Each year on the Eve of turkey day, she and her family would have only rice and tea for dinner, since half the world's population subsists on a variation of this simple meal, most days.  It was too late for our 2011 meal, but I knew for certain what I'd be serving on Thanksgiving Eve 2012.

We talked to the kids about our meal a week or so in advance, and then again at dinner that night.  I shared with them the information I had googled before the meal - that 2.8 billion people, half the world's population, lived on less than $2 per day, and that rice was the staple crop that many people relied on for 2 or 3 meals every day.  I shared with Jeff that 1.2 billion live on less than $1 per day.  As our grocery bill routinely tops the $200 mark each week, I find those numbers staggering.  And appalling.  And humbling.

We said grace and dinner began.  I'd already made a concession for the kids, since they are not big rice eaters and I didn't think they'd care much for tea, either (despite copious amounts of sugar).  Instead, I made available buttered noodles and apple juice.  Aidan was slightly wary about dinner - last week, at a restaurant, he'd ordered buttered noodles for lunch, then found himself still quite hungry after he'd polished off the plate.  He cajoled his brothers into sharing their leftovers, and told me later, "I really regretted not ordering something with more protein in it."  But Aidan is a very good sport about dinner and food in general, and helped himself to noodles and rice, then asked for a taste of our tea.  Leo stared grumpily at his plate and asked what else he was getting for dinner.  "Nothing, honey, remember?"  I tried to talk through the point of the meal again, but Leo couldn't hear me above his howls of protest.  Meanwhile, Pax whined that he wanted an apple, wanted an apple, where was his apple? and refused to touch the noodles he usually gobbles right up when served as a side.  Defeated, I quietly sipped my tea and gave Jeff a long look that said "What was I thinking?"  I muttered, "This is a disaster."   Dinner ended early, and quickly.  I felt a pang of guilt when I realized how little clean up there was, and how easy the dinner prep had been.  Was I really supposed to be enjoying that part so much?

Oh, and then of course there was all the cheating.   I'd loaded the kids up on lots of fruit and some protein-rich granola bars in the afternoon, in preparation for the austere dinner.  In general,  I'm pretty disciplined.  But a gin-and-tonic proved irresistible to us at 4:00 in the afternoon, and I reasoned with Jeff that possibly 1/8th of the world's population enjoys gin and tonics before dinner.  By 9:00 at night, I was really, really, really hungry.  (And wasn't that the whole point?) But then Jeff reasoned that if we let the apple pie we'd made that weekend sit any longer in the fridge, it would have to be pitched in the trash.  So we would actually not be wasteful of food if we were to consume the leftover pie....

I felt like we'd failed.  But with a few day's worth of perspective, I suppose I've come to appreciate that the take-away message from the meal was perhaps more important than the discipline required to fully embrace it.  We didn't eat only rice and tea, we didn't forego indulgences like mixed drinks and pie, we didn't feel a particularly deep connection to half the world's population.  But we did experience that it was hard.  And staggering.  And humbling.  And important.  It was important, to be uncomfortable and hungry and feel guilty for our indulgences.  While I don't think we did a good job sticking to tradition, I think we each learned from the experience.  I walked away with an even deeper sense of compassion, and gratitude.  I'm really grateful that my kids love fruit and expect it to be served at every meal.  I'm really grateful that rice is a choice in this house, in addition to pasta and grains and bread and dairy and veggies and lean meats.  I'm really grateful that each of us struggled in our own ways through the meal, because if it had been easy, how could we grow?

I'm glad we did it.  I'm glad we failed.  It will give us something to work toward next year, and in the meantime, it will make us think more deeply about half the world.

Aidan wrote this recipe at school, two days before our meal.  Perhaps he knows exactly how to serve the whole world, after all....

A Recipe for a Happy Thanksgiving, by Aidan Carter

Ingrients:  famly, food, prayers, freinds, brotherhood.
First you stir a family, food, freinds.
Add brotherhood beat for 360 seconds.
Servers the whole world.
Full of Thanks giving

Pax and his "Hold onto"

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