There is something about Thanksgiving that makes it a season favorite. It could be the family time, the shift into a busy holiday season, or simply the tradition of it all. However, what often makes a holiday great is the delicious food that goes along with it. Throughout many cultures, food is a common, normal part of holiday traditions. And Thanksgiving may be the pinnacle of a food holiday in American culture. Each family likely has their own special food dedicated to Thanksgiving, mixed in amongst the traditional servings. Therefore, it is absolutely okay to enjoy food during holidays despite cultural and societal efforts to reduce portions or to view food only as energy.
So, what makes Thanksgiving food so comforting? There can be a few reasons why this happens. You may hear messages or beliefs around eating too much, that certain foods are “bad”, and liking certain “bad” foods is not okay. All of these are a result of what is called diet culture, which (for simplicity’s sake) is the belief that restricting and manipulating our nutritional intake is health and wellness. When these beliefs are rampant in our culture and our thought process, it can lead into feeling like we are “craving” certain foods. Wanting and craving certain foods is normal, but due to diet culture, we may feel guilt afterwards and believe we “shouldn’t have ate that much” or “shouldn’t have had so many carbs”. However, biologically, we are wired to like food. This is a survival mechanism. This is not a weakness or flaw. Denying hunger is going against other body sensations, like ignoring the fact that we are tired or thirsty. Food is more than fuel, clearly. Food is memories, nostalgia, tradition, and love.
Other than cultural and systemic constructs, what else makes Thanksgiving food comforting? Thanksgiving food engages our senses with the great tastes, savory smells, and familiar environments. It’s okay and normal to want food because it smells good and tastes good. Especially if you have the same or similar foods each year, these smells may trigger memories from previous holidays or comforting times. Nostalgia and tradition can play a big role in why the food can feel comforting. It can be associated with a festive atmosphere, family, and (hopefully) fun. It is not surprising that you may be looking forward to this meal more than your average dinner.
Many Thanksgiving meals consist of some variation of turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, rolls, and other specific family favorites. Regardless of what is prepared, some foods may lead us to feel fuller, such as carbohydrates. This feeling of fullness can lead to feelings of comfort and contentment. Sure, some potential temporary discomfort, but when we eat to fullness, this is a sign our physiological needs are being met. We can feel comfort and pleasure knowing that we ate a meal that tasted good, and that we are full and satisfied from it.
This Thanksgiving season, let’s take some time to enjoy the foods that we like without guilt, to appreciate your access to food (if you have it), and find opportunities to give back to our communities so that everyone can find some peace and comfort.