All around Almanzo were cakes and pies of every kind, and he was
so hungry he could have eaten them all. But he dared not touch even
At last he and father got places at the log table in the dining room.
Everyone was merry, talking and laughing, but Almanzo simply ate.
He ate ham and chicken and turkey and dressing and cranberry jelly;
he ate potatoes and gravy, succotash, baked beans and boiled beans
and onions, and white bread and rye'n'injun bread, and sweet pickles
and jam and preserves. Then he drew a long breath, and he ate pie.
When he began to eat pie, he wished he had eaten nothing else. He ate
a pieces of pumpkin pie and a piece of custard pie, and he ate almost a
piece of vinegar pie. He tried a piece of mince pie, but could not finish
it. He just couldn't do it. There were berry pies and cream pies and
vinegar pies and raisin pies, but he could not eat any more.
-_Farmer Boy_ by Laura Ingalls Wilder
If you've read what I had to say about pie last month, you'll not be surprised to know that this is one of my favorite passages in all of Wilder's wonderful books. The glorious descriptions of food and eating in "Farmer Boy" stand in stark contrast to Laura's own childhood, which included a winter of starvation and long periods of limited diet. It has been suggested that the reason the food sections of "Farmer Boy" are so glorious is because of this stark contrast, because of Laura's envy of her husband's wonderful dinners.
But even Almanzo's marvellous farm meals came in the context of a daily life that was spare by modern standards. The average family used only a few pounds of sugar a year - we now eat over a hundred pounds of sweetener per person. And Almanzo's luxury meals also were built around days spent doing heavy manual farm work. That is, part of what is so glo about the description above is that it is pleasure with no hint of shame - there is no reason to feel bad about pie in the context of a life of hard work and few sweets and fats.
I know that I cannot be the only environmentalist carrying a few extra pounds around, but it is one of those little things that we don't talk a whole lot about. That is, when we talk about equal food for everyone, we very rarely own up to our own deficiencies in the "eating only a fair share" department. I, unfortunately, cannot as easily approach feast days without a little guilt - and how often do we say these things to one another "Oh, I really shouldn't...as we take another bite."
Now Thanksgiving (for us Americans), and heading hard into the winter holidays is a terrible, terrible time to start a diet and since I pretty much make it a firm policy not to advise anyone to do anything I'm not prepared to do, I wish to be clear I don't want anyone to start one. I'm looking forwards to home grown turkey and pumpkin pie just like everyone else.
And that's appropriate - feasting is a good thing. It is important - there should be times in our lives when we live lushly, when we rejoice in full larders and the pleasures of excess. I may be into energy related austerity, but I'm all for sensual pleasures and the delights of communal festivity. There should be times when the food and the wine flow without restraint.
The problem is that we in the west live in a place that is always in feast mode, almost always without restraint. We can eat what was once a month's work of luxury foods in a single meal at a chain restaurant, we can have whatever we want, whenever we want. We live in a culture where it is hard to tell feast days apart from ordinary ones - except, perhaps that in many homes Thanksgiving is the one time in a year anyone eats a root vegetable that isn't a french fry and the one time a year anyone cooks from scratch.
So far be it from me to discourage any of us from feasting. But the thing that I am trying to bring home to myself is this - just as seasonal eating represents an increase in pure sensual delight, a new found pleasure in eating things when they are at their peak, and only then, so would greater restraint make my moments of feasting more pleasurable. That is, I would enjoy my feasts without the slightest hint of discomfort if I ate less the rest of the time, if my current meals were a bit more austere.
And doing so would be both just and fiscally sound - the reality is that many of us eat more than we need to and more of the rich, luxurious fats and sweets that are supposed to be an occasional treat. One of my own goals, as we come out of the feasting season, and into the quieter, leaner times of winter, is not so much to lose weight (although that would be good) or eat less, but to derive more pleasure from what I do eat, that is, to feast thoroughly and fully with great pleasure and no discomfort, and then, in the ordinary days in between, to eat less and appreciate the beauty and simplicity of my food, and the way that simpler meals with less fat and sweet and salt, more vegetables, greens, beans and grains, are both delightful in themselves, and a way of heightening the pleasure of our feasting days.