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Food Reflection Society

Food, Celebration, and Shame

Replied to Family Says The Silent Part Out Loud by Virginia Sole-Smith (Burnt Toast by Virginia Sole-Smith)

On navigating body talk, food shaming and perfectionism at the holidays.

We are a culture that demonizes appetite and fatness, and yet centers every major celebration on food. We are wired to show love through food, but also taught to apologize for loving food…We are also a culture that sets impossibly high standards for the execution of these feasts, and yet makes the labor required invisible…

I am all for setting boundaries… Nobody needs to settle for abuse. But so many of these relationships exist in a gray area. It’s the aunt who taught you to swear and to shop, but also lives on SlimFast. It’s the grandpa who put you through college but will also never pick up a dirty dish in his life. It’s the cousin who plays so well with your kids but also never shuts up about Paleo.

To take a tangent, it’s been a relief to stop attending family Thanksgiving over the past few years. We’d show up and there would be literally nothing for me to eat besides rolls. Being vegetarian for ten-ish years, the number of Thanksgivings I’ve gone hungry or been expected to bring all my own food is exhausting and demoralizing. Nothing says, you don’t belong here, like inviting someone and not bothering to make anything you can eat. It tells me that the tradition of the food is more important than feeding me and including me in the celebration. I’m talking about leaving bacon out of the veggies and salad. Meat broth out of the mashed potatoes. Or if you make a secondary main, maybe it could be vegetarian so I could not have to make a third main dish. This shouldn’t be a big ask from someone you care about.

Never wanting to cause a fuss, I would just quietly nurse my roll through dinner while my partner seethed, or spend a bunch of time cooking my own dishes to bring. See, I’m not a problem! You don’t need to worry about me! But I’m over not taking up space, ignoring my own needs, being unvalued. I was never the problem.

With just my partner and I, we’ve run the gamut of two-people Thanksgivings and various Friendsgivings. One year I spent all day making us a feast we ate in fifteen minutes (I love Thanksgiving food!). We had a talk after that and my partner expressed his frustration with feasts when so many don’t have enough food – and our discomfort with Thanksgiving when it’s a day of mourning for Native Americans. So, this year we had a simple dinner, salmon and Brussels sprouts (I’m pescatarian now) – salmon felt appropriate to honor the Pacific Northwest’s traditions.

My therapist encouraged me to think bigger about new Thanksgiving traditions. She could tell the weight of this holiday from a few minutes of me morosely trying to come up with ways to make Thanksgiving enjoyable. I was too busy to follow through on her suggestion of getting out of town for a few days, but it could be fun in the future. I also like the suggestion in the comments on this article of a Thanksgiving brunch instead of dinner, because I love love love brunch.

Slowly, slowly, I’ve been stepping back from the holidays that don’t mean anything to me, and am inspired to push farther that way. What else am I forcing myself through to align with the culture at large? What am I shaming myself into doing? Because let’s stop that.

Holiday cards are something I made myself do for a few years, then quit when I realized I was doing all the work, then chose to take it up again last year for more connection through the pandemic. I’ve stopped doing any holiday decorations in our house during December. My nuclear family switched to Solstice years back because I didn’t want to celebrate Christmas anymore, which I appreciate because I want nothing to do with organized religion, but even that is more of a stand-in than something I feel a particular need to celebrate. It’s important to my family to have something to celebrate so I don’t mind doing this with them.

I am just not a person inclined towards holidays. They feel contrived and obligatory. It’s frankly annoying to field questions all season about what I’m doing for the holidays and have to pretend to care / be doing anything – that should be one benefit of working remotely! I usually just play up the “getting rest” angle since the time off is what I value about the holidays 😉

I’m looking forward to spending Christmas Day doing an IndieWeb Create Day this year. Sounds like a good change of pace.

By Tracy Durnell

Writer and designer in the Seattle area. Freelance sustainability consultant. Reach me at tracy.durnell@gmail.com. She/her.

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