The Thanks of Communal Feasting

Submitted by Annapurna

I  recently read an article, “Sacred Grains,” about a family ritual involving beating 150 pounds of dry sweet rice into handmade mochi.   “Before the meal begins, the family pauses and says grace as an offering to nature and the year to come.”

The Festival of Homowo being celebrated in Accra, Ghana

The Ga people of Ghana, those living in the major coastal towns, 57 harvesting festivals are celebrated between late July and early October.  The most important of these is Homowo, the Yam festival, or more literally, “hooting at hunger.”  Homowo entails assembling living and dead family members to open the fishing season, participate in the feast, and perform the ritual dances.

Most cultures have their biggest feasts associated with harvesting, no matter how modern the countries may have become.  Food has recently become plentiful for a large portion of the population.  It used be a precious commodity, reserved for the nobility whereas everyone had to pray that nature would come through that year.

In the United States, it is difficult to remember that even during a day of our national feasting.  Someone who just read “Omnivore” commented it’s not surprising that we Americans are so far removed from our food source that our biggest feast has nothing to do with the actual food. I know some people who refuse to celebrate it due to the historical implications of Thanksgiving.

Yet, one can view it as simply a day to remember the importance of gratitude and relationships.  Food is an essential component that serves to bond family and community across faiths and cultures.

I’m of two minds on rituals.  I’m not a fan of rituals on the “must do” dogmatic level. I am a fan when ritual makes the  intangible, tangible; when it contextualizes that which otherwise is beyond our scope of understanding; when it gives unhealthy situations, a healthy path, such as rites of passage, the celebration of birth and the process of grieving. In such cases, ritual is critical.  It provides a framework for the individual to release emotion and grieve or celebrate without causing harm or disruption to him or herself and society.  It builds bonds.

Even if you don’t believe in rituals, I bet that it’s incorporated into your life somehow through happy hours every week at a certain spot or day with the same people.  Through the mandatory dinner with the family at the table or the Sunday brunch with friends or date night with that special someone.  I know someone who skypes with her long distance boyfriend, glass of wine in hand. All of it does one thing: develops a bond.

Meals with family & friends deepens bonds -- and may increase your lifespan

As Miriam Weinstein says in “The Surprising Power of Family Meals,”supper is only the occasion, the excuse. The subject is actually family — establishing, enjoying, and maintaining ties. The goal is creating and reinforcing a secure place for your loved ones in a society that can seem awfully uninterested in human needs.”

There is a wealth of studies that corroborate the importance of eating together as a family or else with loved ones as consistently as possible. If you are blessed with plenty, dinner can be a chance for communication, involvement in your family’s nutritional intake and increase over food and therefore environmental awareness, and a chance to expand a child’s dietary palate and therefore his or her world.

According to a survey conducted by the University of Minnesota that appears in the August 2004 issue of The Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, frequent family meals are related to better nutritional intake, and a decreased risk for unhealthy weight control practices and substance abuse.

A Harvard study published in the March 2000 issue of Archives of Family Medicine showed that eating family dinners together most or all days of the week was associated with eating more healthfully.

Another University of Minnesota study published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association found that children who ate family meals consumed more fruits, vegetables and fewer snack foods than children who ate separately from their families.  This and other studies showed children who ate with their families performed better in school.

So whatever your Thanksgiving — the old fashioned family gathering or the gathering of friends that turns into a costume party and movie night — remember it isn’t just the food that may leave you with that sense of contentment. Just look around you…and there may be no prodding necessary to give thanks.

Happy Holidays!


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