In my last post I talked about the latest book from Dr. Ruth Nemzoff, Don't Roll Your Eyes: Making In-Laws Into Family (Palgrave/Macmillan, 2012). Today on Family Matters, just in time to help families plan a peaceful Thanksgiving, we are fortunate to have a guest post from Dr. Nemzoff herself. In this post, Nemzoff offers the same caliber of sound, practical advice that characterizes both her books:
What is more American than apple pie? The Thanksgiving turkey, of course. Unless you are a vegan or a vegetarian. Then the turkey symbolizes our inhumane treatment of animals rather than the idyllic Norman Rockwell picture of family togetherness. Yet, for some family members a roasted parsnip and rutabaga just doesn't do it. Thus begin the Thanksgiving food fights.
Round one: A family member comes, doesn't eat, complains bitterly, and disparages the eating habits of the other guests.
Round two: The hostess is miffed. "I worked hard, and all I get are complaints."
Round three: Everybody's angry.
The all-American Thanksgiving—one of two holidays a year with no religious significance—is a holiday that should bring families together. But it can become instead a reason to instigate arguments as the universal appeal of coming together and eating is crushed by judgmental accusations and self-righteous attitudes. One family member won't eat at the table of omnivores and another demeans the ideology of Paleolithic eaters. Because the meal is the central altar on which we observe this holiday, the host is particularly sensitive to those who won't partake of the food and those who criticize the menu.
Many years ago, when I was a professor at Bentley University, I asked my students to write an essay about their Thanksgiving celebrations. I was looking for how family members interacted. Evidently, my instructions were unclear, because the papers I received described the meals in mouth-watering detail. Reading these papers, I discovered we are all putting our own stamps on Thanksgiving. The Vietnamese community added spring rolls; the Italians antipasto; the Jews knishes; and the Greeks grape leaves. Blending community customs with the traditional Thanksgiving fare has apparently been going on for years.
The lesson for today’s families with different dietary philosophy is tolerance. You can easily serve a platter of roast turnip and rutabaga, which contains no animal product or gluten in addition to the turkey. The host or hostess may need to make minor accommodations such as not putting the whole bird on the table, which looks particularly offensive to the animal-lover. Rather than digging in your heels to stick to an old tradition, blend the new with the old. Now that's as American as apple pie!
Those who do have special dietary needs might ask in advance if they could bring their own special dish or, if plane travel precludes that option, they could order from a local store or request time in the kitchen to make their specialty. The bonus is the host and new family member will spend time together and teach each other a thing or two.
If you're entering a new family, you can be sure the meal won’t be exactly like mommy used to make it. The stuffing won't be the same. The new family may use cranberry sauce from the can (a no-no in your family). You can choose to focus on the differences, or enjoy what you're served and treasure the new experience with your in-laws.
Maybe in your family, everybody pitches in to clear the table and do the dishes. Much joking and teasing and camaraderie accompanies these tasks. In other families, they may have hired help. In either case, both are demonstrating hospitality. If, at the end of the meal, everyone gets up to take their plates to the kitchen and you're used to being waited on hand and foot, don't pitch a fit about the extra work. Join in the fun because working together can be fun, and many hands make light work, as well as a much happier hostess.
Books by Dr. Nemzoff
Don't Bite Your Tongue: How to Foster Rewarding Relationships with Your Adult Children (Palgrave/Macmillan, 2008)
Don't Roll Your Eyes: Making In-Laws Into Family (Palgrave/Macmillan, September 2012)