Question Consumption This Thanksgiving

by Guinevere Higgins   |   November 9, 2018

Tgiving Dinner

Of all of our national holidays, Thanksgiving has a lot going for it. It’s relatively noncommercial and retains its strong focus on gratitude and a shared meal. 

But the modern version of this humble holiday has been hijacked by Black Friday (which now begins on the holiday itself), and, for many, it’s tainted by challenging family interactions and stressful travel. This is to say nothing of the fact that most Americans have little understanding of what it represents to present-day Native peoples.

Yes, there was likely a shared meal between English colonizers and Native people in present-day Massachusetts in the fall of 1621. But what may have been a peaceful gathering in the 17th century also represents the beginning of centuries of forced migration, cultural genocide, and outright slaughter of indigenous Americans.

This year, we invite you to think more deeply about the meaning of Thanksgiving and to question consumption. How?

Change the story

Your family may celebrate the holiday with a reverence for gratitude, togetherness, and good food. It’s important to understand what Thanksgiving means for Indigenous Americans. Take the time to understand what the history of settler colonialism has meant to the original human inhabitants of North America.

  • Is that tribe (or tribes) still active in your area today? How can you learn more about them?

November is also Native American Heritage Month, and the perfect time to commit to better understanding the history, culture, and perspectives of native peoples. If you’d like to better understand the mythology of the original Thanksgiving story, as well as interpret native perceptions of the holiday, POC Online Classroom has a list of resources to offer a more complete picture of what it means today.

"November is the perfect time to commit to better understanding the history, culture, and perspectives of native peoples."

Have the hard conversations

With social divides growing ever wider in the U.S. and hate crimes on the rise, the time to stand up to bigotry is now. While we may be able to cocoon ourselves among politically aligned friends and community members, Thanksgiving—and the year-end holidays in general—often puts us face to face with loved ones whose opinions and attitudes run counter to our values.

  • Commit to challenging bigoted statements, whether they’re about race, gender, immigrants, religion, sexuality, or any other dimension of difference. It may be difficult and at times extremely uncomfortable, but it's worth standing up for your values.
  • Check out Teaching Tolerance's detailed guide to having difficult conversations with loved ones, whether it’s a young child who doesn’t understand the impact of a racist joke or an in-law who uses slurs.

Support farm to table

Thanksgiving is a wonderful time to feature locally sourced foods, and many chefs and farmers in the farm-to-table movement now occupy celebrity status. But the vast majority of the human beings responsible for our food production—those who harvest and pack the crops, and prepare and clean up after our meals—are invisible to us. Workers in low-wage jobs like restaurant work and farm labor are more likely to be sexually assaulted and otherwise exploited. 

"The vast majority of the human beings responsible for our food production—those who harvest and pack the crops, and prepare and clean up after our meals—are invisible to us."

In addition, 96% of rural landowners are white, meaning that there are very few Black, Latinx, Indigenous, or other non-white farmers who own the land they work.

  • Do your favorite chefs and farmers engage in exploitative labor practices?
  • What would you do if you knew that the folks who prepare our meals and harvest farm products are being exploited?
  • Are there farmers or food providers of color in your area? Seek them out!
  • Do your favorite recipes come from white chefs and cookbook authors? Seek out foodways that are being led by indigenous people or people of color, and honor their skills and contributions to our food heritage.

Commit to cutting your consumerism

While you’re together with friends and family, have a conversation about what you’d like to get out of the year-end holidays and commit to less materialistic traditions.

  • What does it mean that we feel compelled to give material gifts?
  • What do the year-end holidays really represent, and how can we best manifest those values in our celebrations?
  • What does it mean to consume when so many have so little? What do we do when faced with hard truths about the often invisible aspects of consumption?
  • Find an opportunity to serve the community, such as volunteering at a local soup kitchen with your family. Or, pool funds to support a cause that everyone agrees on.
  • Agree to give gifts of time and experience, instead of stuff. (Our alternative gift registry, SoKind, is a great online platform for doing this.)

New Dream offers countless ideas and suggestions for simplifying your holiday, and we also invite you to question consumption as you embark on the holiday season.

If you’re celebrating Thanksgiving this year, we hope it’s a restful and relaxing time with loved ones, and that you’ll find these ideas thought-provoking. Do they help you question consumption? If so, please let us know how; send us an email, tweet us at @newdream, or find us on Facebook and share your feedback.

Guinevere Higgins is Director of Strategic Partnerships at New Dream.