It’s the buildup to Thanksgiving, the opening round of the holiday eating season, and my in-box is already filling up with suggestions on how to work off all the food and drink we’ll consume. One even suggests that Thanksgiving become America’s National Cheat Day. Really? This is worse than having to watch ads for holiday gifts before Halloween was even over. People, can’t we embrace the gluttony just for a couple of days without judgment?
Yes, gluttony. I said the word, although pinning down what it means might be more of a challenge — I’ll just say that I know it when I see it, or maybe feel it. That joyful urge to fork up another bite or down another glass of wine that happens when we’re in the thick of celebrating is what feasting has been about since early humans brought down their first standing rib roast. Some believe that cooking is what civilized us. I believe that overindulgence is what makes us human.
Let’s face it. We’re a collection of oddball traits held together with a psyche that occasionally needs to let loose and fall into a vat of marshmallow-topped sweet potatoes or a sea of mahogany gravy poured over an island of mashed potatoes.
I know that here in Southern California, we like to think of ourselves as a fit ideal of humanity, but I take comfort looking at the sweaty, pink faces on display in the Getty exhibition “Eat, Drink, and Be Merry: Food in the Middle Ages and Renaissance.” It makes me feel like part of a continuum of folks who can embrace pleasure. And those images make me feel less alone. How did we get to a place where the chorus is on pleasure lockdown and the individual voice of “Yay pie and ice cream!” is shouted down with smug know-it-all-ism?
As Prose, who is also a novelist, writes: “Who, exactly will suffer if, in that one tiny moment of self-forgetting, we help ourselves to the second or even third helping of pecan pie?”