By Kurt Michael Friese
Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all the others. ~Cicero
Celebrations of the harvest have existed for as long as civilization, for indeed it was agriculture that necessitated both. But Thanksgiving is a uniquely American holiday; a celebration of the bounty shared by the native inhabitants of this land with foreign pilgrims. While Judeo-Christian prayers before a meal give thanks to God and Native Americans thank the very animal on which they feast, each are also a recognition of our own place in the world.
Giving gratitude for the bounty we enjoy demonstrates respect not only for nature and God, but for ourselves as well. And so, while gratitude should be acknowledged, felt, and practiced every day, we set aside one particular day each fall to celebrate the harvest and pay special attention to that which makes it possible for us to do everything else we do in this life. To recognize that food transforms us even as it is transformed into us.
The food that says Thanksgiving to me is my mother’s wild rice dressing which, in my own version, gives nod to those historic Native Americans. I never thought my mom’s recipe could be improved upon until I discovered the magnificent flavors of real Manoomin wild rice, hand harvested and parched on the lakes near Ponsford, Minnesota by members of the Ojibwe Nation. This is truly wild wild rice, far more flavorful, nutritious and surprisingly quick-cooking than the California-grown “paddy rice” that is commonly marketed as wild rice (In fact, a common Ojibwe joke on the White Earth reservation goes something like this: “How to cook paddy rice: put the rice in a large pot with a stone and plenty of water. Bring to a boil. When the stone is soft, the rice is almost done.”)
On Thanksgiving and every day, I am thankful for my family more than anything else, for they are my true source of sustenance and joy. I am thankful for my awareness of the importance and impact of my food. I am thankful for crisp autumn mornings and rain and my dogs. I am thankful that I am still on the right side of the grass.
And bacon. I am very thankful for bacon.
Next time you eat, whether around a sumptuous table or alone in the kitchen with that leftover turkey sandwich, stop for just a moment to consider what you're truly thankful for.
Kurt Michael Friese is the founding leader of Slow Food Iowa, serves on the Slow Food USA National Board of Directors, and is editor and publisher of the local food magazine Edible Iowa River Valley. He’s also Chef and co-owner of the Iowa City restaurant Devotay, a freelance food writer and photographer, and author of A Cook’s Journey: Slow Food in the Heartland.