The holidays, for most of us, are synonymous with food. We eat and drink like it is a full time job, often to the point of busting our budgets and belt-buckles. Why do we do this to ourselves? How do we harness the joy of holiday gastronomy without offering our bodies as sacrifice to the gluttonous gods of culinary excess?
The holidays, for most of us, are synonymous with food. We eat and drink like it is a full time job. Beginning with Thanksgiving dinner, our belts expand exponentially, leaving us in comas of tryptophan, wine, carbohydrates, and diabetic sugar crashes. Fortunately, Daylight Saving Time eats away our daily light, otherwise we’d be on a season-long guilt trip for napping through the crisp autumn evenings.
Thanksgiving leads to the unending parade of holiday parties and celebratory events ushering us, swollen and exhausted, straight through the Christmas hams and bottomless bottles of New Year’s Eve champagne, into another New Year’s Day full of resolutions of exercise, diet, self-control, and unpalatable weight-loss shakes. Why, friends, do we do this to ourselves?
We are a collective culture of food and drink; and rightfully so, as it is the sustenance by which we live. But it is more than mere survival. We build our social infrastructure on the act of eating and drinking. This is our interpersonal interaction default — no wonder we obsess over it. Don’t assume this is a purely highbrow endeavor either; it spans from chitterlings to truffles and caviar, and no one, no matter how isolated, is permanently excluded from the social meal culture.
How then, do we harness the joy and nostalgia of holiday gastronomy without offering our bodies as sacrifice to the gluttonous gods of culinary excess? I submit to you a list of four tactics to maintain holiday eating and drinking as a cultural gem, not a physical dreg.
One of my favorite traditions from my very Southern upbringing is the act of giving food as a gift. As Southerners we give food for every special occasion from birth to death with the pinnacle falling in each year’s holiday season. My mother’s specialty was bread. Everyone she knew got bread and a card for the holidays. I am my mother’s son and I followed in her footsteps — not just for the holidays. I bake bread constantly, and it usually ends up in the hands of friends and family, not in my belly. I realized that growing up, we rarely ate a lot of bread, in part because we were givers of bread. The act of giving reduced the amount we ate and increased the joy of holiday giving we felt inside.
Admittedly, I love wine, and I know I’m not the only one out there. I also have a habit of over-indulging in the things I love, which can lead to all manners of excess if not careful. My solution is to share the things I love. When I find a bottle of wine that tickles my fancy, I pour it in the glasses of as many friends and family as I can find. We taste, discuss, and most importantly, connect over the wine — and magically people rarely have too much. We do, however, create some lasting memories that usually involve great laughter and hopefully the appreciation of a new wine.
We all have set traditions for the holidays, and in most circumstances these shouldn’t be broken. However, one simple way to increase the cultural experience of your holiday tradition while decreasing the excess is to simply invite someone new. Whether you celebrate with family, friends or a combination thereof, make room at the table for a holiday hobo. There are so many interesting, wonderful folks out there who, by whatever circumstance, don’t have a home for the holidays. You will make a mark on this person’s life, and (at the very least) they’ll keep you from having so much leftover mac n’cheese. At the very best, they will open your eyes to other family traditions, great new stories and a bit of holiday experience you might have never had.
This is quite possibly the easiest way to control the food and drink excess hazards during the holiday season. It’s simple: set a maximum budget, generate an ideal list of items, mix and match until you’ve balanced the scales. This forces you to set priorities such as, “mashed potatoes are culturally more important to me than an extra bottle of wine”. At the end of the day, you feel happier because you haven’t broken your budget or your belt-buckle, and I would be willing to bet the time spent with family and friends eating and drinking was not hindered by an under-abundance of lima beans.
It isn’t hard to find a myriad of anecdotes outlining some form of the message, “it isn’t about the food, it’s about the people”. Perhaps that’s right, but I submit an added bit: “the people are about the food.” We gather around tables of glasses and plates and we share our culture of eating and drinking together. It’s been this way since the beginning of recorded history. Cheese and wine or chips and beer, it doesn’t matter; our culture will always connect as we chew. Open doors, open hands, and a little moderation might just change your holiday season forever. At the very least, might open your mind to another’s culture of food.