Thanksgiving: The Holiday of Moral Qualms

The menu for Nov. 22: tofurky, capitalist pig and a nagging sense of existential grief



Gather ’round the table for a heaping helping of humility.


There is no holiday more shrouded in ethical angst, more clouded with moral ambiguity than Thanksgiving. It is only fitting that November, the bitter, neglected child of the calendar year, has once again brought us face-to-face with the one day off that carries enough baggage to ground an airplane.

Thanksgiving has made its name on a sense of unity and family, but we see through the tryptophan sham. This fourth Thursday of November, it will once again be time to gather the family ’round the table to confront the ethical conundrums that muddy the gravy of this feast of farce.

To unleash unease is only in the holiday spirit.

The easiest target is enough to make even the most patriotic AP U.S. History student squirm with moral turmoil: the “First Thanksgiving” that graces the pages of children’s books and “Peanuts” specials the world over. It may be old news by now that friends, buttered toast, jelly beans and popcorn do not quite represent the selfless gesture from Native Americans to struggling European colonists immortalized in many a terrible school play. Did you want an extra helping of genocide with your mashed potatoes?

Does the inevitable backstabbing of epic proportions that followed the iconic meal we annually seek to replicate boil your blood hotter than a thousand pots of corn on the cob? Is it the meat sweats, or does the irony of giving thanks on stolen land make you perspire?

Now you’re getting into the spirit.

In the interest of maximizing stress throughout the holiday, one might seek to bring up the United Nations Climate Report once more — you know, the one that says we’re doomed as a species if we can’t change our ways and work towards a more sustainable tomorrow. Atop the list of horrible human habits that turn up the heat on planet Earth: eating meat. It really just isn’t Thanksgiving unless each turkey leg and sliver of roast beef fills you with the unshakable notion that the carbon emissions and ultimate sacrifice of innocent life to fill your stomach weren’t entirely worth it — on your way up for thirds. A soggy block of tofu is more symbolic of the season than turkey ever was, after all.

The televised military tribunal our country holds every year does little to lighten the mood. Thanksgiving may be unique in its position as the only holiday marked with a presidential pardon. Members of a foreign species stand trial for their right to exist, walk free by the benevolence of our enlightened despot and, assumedly, return to tell their friends about the might of the United States — if they’re not already cooked up and served.

This may be too harsh a judgement. Perhaps the shifty eyes, twiddling fingers and crescendoing gastrointestinal distress are entirely separate from the unsettling air of the season. The knife-cuttable tension around this year’s feast of folly may very well have another, even more callous source: gluttonous sequels you just can’t wait to celebrate.

The holiday, sufficiently dreadful on its own, continues to find ways to absorb other weaker sources of gloom, much like an imploding star. Black Friday and Thanksgiving are one and the same, and you know you love it. The sense of urgency that accompanies food prep for the big day is but a pregame for the adrenaline to come, as visions of white-knuckled grips on shopping carts dance in the heads of Black Friday veterans. Turning one’s ear away from the commotion in Best Buy reveals another, even sweeter sound of impending stress: sleigh bells. Halloween is far in the rearview, and Thanksgiving is the perfect harbinger of snow, ice, mall Santas and Walmart layaway.

If the pumpkin pie-fueled regret and self-loathing haven’t kicked in yet, be safe with the knowledge that Thanksgiving, in one way or another, will do its part to stuff you full of ethical turmoil and stressful conflict before the last plate is cleaned. If you, like millions of Americans, look forward to taking this single day out of the year to be thankful, be forewarned: you’ll have no choice but to face the impossible contextual nuances, ethical quandaries and boats upon boats of muddy gravy that give twisted life to the holiday, lumps and all.