I spent this past Thanksgiving break at my grandma’s house in Pittsburgh. My grandma has lived in Pittsburgh her entire life, and I’ve been visiting her there for Thanksgiving for all of mine. While I was there, she taught me how to make her stuffing.
(Side note: I seriously did not realize that stuffing was supposed to go inside the actual turkey until earlier this year. We never do that in Pittsburgh. My grandma says that it’s “gross” and that we’ll get sick from the turkey’s organs. Which begs the question: why are we eating turkey to begin with if it could make us sick? Anyway.)
As we mixed massive quantities of hot sausage and raisins and bread and other top secret ingredients, we talked about her brothers’ experiences fighting in World War II and, completely unrelated, about the fact that my cousin’s girlfriend was joining us for dinner. My grandma made us screwdrivers at 1:00 p.m. It was, without a doubt, my favorite part of the trip.
This, for me, is the healthy, happy side of the delicately woven food-and-holidays web that entangles many families around this time of year. Learning family recipes is learning family history, and making food together can be a special kind of communal experience. Unfortunately, for many people, the holidays can also be a time fraught with strange, tortured food relationships. Everyone talks about food more than usual, whether to express gratitude or bemoan how much they ate. Everyone tends to promise post-holiday diets, as if the allure of future purging will rid them of guilt for excessive eating. Maybe that’s really the core of it: people feel guilty or just generally unhappy about the amount and type of food that they’re eating. This attitude makes it hard to enjoy the very enjoyable eating that accompanies the holidays, especially for those affected by eating disorders. All the guilt and food porn and purges turn a magnifying glass to the very issues – excess, control, weight and guilt – that are already implicated in issues like body dysmorphia and disordered eating.
My grandma’s house has lots of women’s magazines in it, too, which I read, passively yet religiously, every time I’m at her house. Those magazines – Redbook, Woman’s Day, Good Housekeeping – are, unsurprisingly, packed with ways to manage weight around the holidays, with oxymoronic titles like, “Eat to Stay Skinny.” Instead of talking around and about the overwhelming, all-consuming obsession with food that seems to grip everyone a little tighter right around now, though, what if we all just – and hear me out here – stopped talking so damn much about food? Learn from it; talk while you make it; but, for God’s sake, stop with the guilt-tripping and purging. It’s the holidays. Enjoy your stuffing or cranberry sauce or whatever dish your family makes. You deserve it.