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...As Good As A Feast

Looking for a holiday recipe?

The Accomplisht Cook” written by Robert May in 1660 suggests 39 dishes served over two courses. Only one item is the traditional turkey roast.

Holidays are centered around feasts.

Or did we center feasts around holidays?

Aren’t they really one and the same?

Harvest feasts are a no-brainer, naturally, we eat in abundance to celebrate the abundance. In the Northern Hemisphere, winter feasts are a little riskier. Fresh plants are scarce by then, but some hunting was possible. Families would count the supply of stocked food towards the cold, lean months ahead, pre-refrigeration. After the winter solstice in mid-December, the sun shines a bit longer each day, and celebration for the coming spring can begin. Early Christians were wise to anchor the celebration of the birth of Jesus around the winter solstice feast. Hope for new beginnings is in our hearts with the lengthening of the days.

As we live in modern times and a rich country, we are no longer bound by the seasons to secure our food. We can feast any time of the year with plenty of food grown in other climates or preserved by canning or freezing. Without constraints on our food supply and choices, feasting can get a bit out of control, especially during the holidays. We are surrounded by messaging that encourages us to eat with wild abandon for the entire month of December. Magazine covers with magnificent tables spread with complicated holiday food accost us at the grocery checkout line. Our news feeds are full of tempting new recipes to add to our family traditions. Indeed, who doesn’t look forward to the feasts of Christmas week?

Yet, even as little as a century ago, Christmas feasts, prepared by generations of women with love, were completely consumed. There were often many more around the table as well. There was very little waste. All leftovers were creatively served and consumed over the next few days. Like many of us, I grew up in a household where wasting food was a huge sin. My mother had lots of recipes designed to use up leftovers. My mother-in-law still has her cookbook “Half a Can of Tomato Paste and Other Culinary Dilemmas”. For most of the year, people shopped often to prevent food spoilage. They cooked only enough for each meal to avoid leftovers in the first place. They preserved the bounty of their vegetable gardens. Then for Christmas and other holidays, they prepared traditional feasts that were completely devoured. I remember helping to boil the carcasses for soup. Everything was eaten.

Not all food is eaten anymore.

Food waste means that all the resources used to grow those plants and animals are wasted. Though we may not feel it directly, food waste is one of the major contributors to environmental degradation. “In the United States, food waste is estimated at between 30-40 percent of the food supply. This estimate, based on estimates from USDA’s Economic Research Service of 31 percent food loss at the retail and consumer levels, corresponded to approximately 133 billion pounds and $161 billion worth of food in 2010.” For more details, see the US Department of Agriculture Facts Sheet.

Did you know the national food waste reduction goal is to reduce food waste by 50% by the year 2030? Much of that waste is generated before the consumer gets involved, but we can still play a part in preventing food waste on our holiday tables. For more suggestions, see the FDA “Tips to Reduce Food Waste”.

This month, as we prepare for our Christmas parties, family feasts, and gifts of fruitcake, please think about how much food a feast actually needs. We want to celebrate with family and friends with abundance, yet let us think about the balance between abundance and what we can actually consume. Does that fancy recipe require two teaspoons of an exotic ingredient that only comes in a big jar? Could we buy local produce to reduce spoilage? Do we really need all that chocolate? (“Yes” is a perfectly acceptable answer, as long as we think about it!) Do we have a plan for the leftovers? If not, is there someone who could use a seat at your table or a meal delivered?

Food is a precious gift; rejoice in what you have and share the abundance.

Wishing you and yours a Merry Christmas from the Earth Care Ministry!

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