Above: Students and staff hand out free produce at University of California, Merced. Recent studies have shown the campus deals with high rates of food insecurity among its student population, echoing a larger hunger trend within Merced County. (Photo by Hannah Esqueda)
By Hannah Esqueda
For many, the approaching winter holiday season is a time to celebrate with family, friends and food. But while these traditions are designed to bring us together, it’s important to remember the bigger picture.
From food insecurity and waste, to the dark roots of fall’s biggest feast–many within our community will have little to no reason worth celebrating. Below, we’ve highlighted some key aspects of the holiday season to keep in mind this Thanksgiving so you can stay woke and fight for change.
A dark history
As Indian Country Today points out, the very roots of the Thanksgiving holiday are offensive. The dark, but true, narrative is often ignored, with history books and school lesson plans whitewashing the true relationship experienced between the Pilgrims and Native Americans.
While records show white settlers and a group of 90 Wampanoag did share a harvest meal in 1621, the event was never repeated. Modern-day Thanksgiving celebrations actually originate from a massacre that occurred years later.
Indian Country Today reports that, in 1636, white settlers recorded killing 400 Pequot men, women and children in response to the mysterious murder of one white man. An annual feast was created by the pilgrims in celebration of their attack, during which there was much “thanks giving” to God for their success against Native Americans.
While Thanksgiving Day celebrations have generally moved away from this dark past and are now closer to giant floating cartoon characters and shopping deals, it’s still important to remember that a feast for some can be a famine for others.
Too much but not enough
It’s no surprise that the Thanksgiving meal is a staple among the fall food shopping scene. In fact, total U.S. spending on Thanksgiving dinner in 2016 was just under $3 million, or about $59 per household, according to research group Statistic Brain.
This fall, families are projected to top that, spending an average of $64 on a Thanksgiving feast. All those groceries are likely to be turned into a meal topping 3,000 calories per person, or 1,000 calories above your recommended daily intake, according to the American Council on Exercise.
If we dig into the main dish of roast turkey, the problems continue. Last year, Business Insider shined a light on the sad reality of the commercial turkey industry. Among the most heartbreaking findings is the practice of farmers cutting the beaks and toes from “stressed turkeys” in order “to prevent them from attacking each other.”
The outlet also reported that since the 1960’s, commercially-raised turkeys have doubled in average size, with most now weighing in at about 30 pounds. This is unsustainable, and the average farm turkey now lives a much shorter life space plagued by the inability to fly or breed naturally.
These facts haven’t slowed consumption however, and on Thanksgiving Day 2016, American families ate more than 51.6 million of the birds.
On the flipside of all this gluttony is the hunger and food insecurity which continues to exist among our communities. Despite feasts being planned all over Merced County, the area is home to one of the nation’s highest rates of child food insecurity.
Nearly three in ten Merced County children is living with food insecurity, making it the third-highest county rate in the nation, according to the Merced County Food Bank.
The nonprofit serves between 15,000 and 18,000 residents each month and need often spikes during the holiday season.
But while the full picture of Thanksgiving may be a dark and sad tale it can also help us give thanks in a better way. From counting blessings of good health and fortune, to acting kinder towards your neighbors in the community, it’s not too late to change how you choose to celebrate the holiday.
This year consider where your food goes and how best to use those leftovers. Maybe consider starting a tradition to give back to others in the community and volunteer. Just be sure to take some time to look beyond your own feast table and consider the reality faced by others.