Improving the food system related host/ess gifts for Thanksgiving
This is a pipe dream. People don't really want to think at Thanksgiving, they want to eat.
This is partly a reprint and I haven't necessarily re-checked the links.
Thanksgiving is Thursday November 23rd.
A few years ago I started writing a Thanksgiving piece, with the aim of suggestions of "guest-brought gifts" that touched somehow on food issues, lasting longer than the contents of a bottle of wine, along with the opportunity to discuss broader foodways and access issues.
Pandemic: Cooking at home. The pandemic shifted how we eat at least for a time. After decades of increasing consumption of prepared meals, to the point where more than 50% of dollars spent on food was out of home, more people cooked their meals out of necessity.
Of course, restaurants were decimated by the pandemic, many closed. Many shifted to take out operations. Some were good at it, many sucked. Online grocery delivery took off too, but it's still unprofitable (picking orders and delivery is expensive--in the old way, those elements were "off loaded" to the customer).
For example one change was a massive increase in baking like with sourdough starters--flour producers had 3x and 6x increases in sales compared to their previous best seasons during the holiday, canning (I learned how to do freezer jam, which is easier), etc. ("One Year Later: How the Pandemic Changed Home Cooking," Allrecipes, "Survey: 7 in 10 consumers say they will keep cooking at home after the pandemic," FoodDive).
People are eating out more now, as vaccination rates increase, but there is still a greater amount of home-based cooking than there was before.
Restaurants are still closing in 2023. And restaurants are still feeling the effects, as of 2023, restaurants continue to close at disproportionate rates ("Why are so many restaurants closing in Washington DC?," AS, "Roughly 17% of US restaurants have permanently shut down since the start of the pandemic as industry leaders warn of an 'unprecedented economic decline'," BI) as work from home reduces patronage in business districts, and as inflationary boosts to the cost of restaurant meals leads people to reduce the number of times they go out to eat in a typical week or month.
Inflation along with rising wage rates have also affected restaurants.
Pandemic: Supply chain and now inflation. When I wrote this in 2021, a new issue was the impact of the pandemic on global supply chains especially of food--prices are rising significantly at least for some items as much as 10%, 20%, or more, and foods, like turkey, pumpkin, and cranberries, typically part of the Thanksgiving food array are increasingly difficult to source ("Buying turkey and pie for Thanksgiving? Get ready for higher prices and ‘don’t wait until Wednesday night'," Chicago Tribune).
It's just as bad now. Most of the price increases are baked in. But in our area, in terms of best price, mayonnaise has more than doubled, skinless chicken breasts are up 75%. The specific coffee we buy is up 60%.
Thoughtful Thanksgiving host/ess gifts beyond wine. The first time I wrote this post was in 2016, but I've never done it early enough in the month, when you can actually procure an item in time, without paying for expedited shipping. Some of these items I've probably mentioned before, some are new.
1. A gift subscription to a regional food magazine. A gift subscription to one of the Edible Communities regional publications on the local food system would be great. They now have 83 affiliates in the US and Canada. Each magazine covers its local food scene, from farmers and restaurants to markets and recipes. Some areas have publications outside of the Edible Communities publications, like Savor Virginia.
2. How about Cook's Illustrated, Cook's County, or Fine Cooking, independently published specialty recipe magazines produced to a high quality, with a great deal of research.
3. Gift subscription to a regional lifestyle magazine that covers foodways issues. If you live in the South (Southern Living), in California/Pacific Northwest (Sunset) or New England (Yankee Magazine) these magazines are great guides about homes, regional traditions, travel, and food, with great recipes.
4. Are there children in the house? ChopChop Family is an initiative promoting healthier eating for families, and greater engagement by children in preparing meals.
They publish a quarterly magazine, ChopChop. They also promote bulk subscriptions of the magazine for schools, health clinics, and other institutional settings, to promote access to the publication so that it can reach audiences that may not otherwise come across it.
Raddish is a cooking club for children, that is subscription based. Each month the child receives a kit with recipes, a cooking tool, and projects. (Food isn't provided, but a grocery list for the recipes is.)
5. Books on regional foodways/cookbooks. There are a number of books published that explore regional foodways and systems, and I think it would be cool to come in hand with a great book on regional foodways. Darrin Nordahl's newest book, Eating Appalachia: Rediscovering Regional American Flavors, explores the Appalachian region. Writing primarily about (but not limited to) the Southwest, Gary Nabhun has written many books about food, cuisine, and agriculture.
Chesapeake Table is about foods and recipes for the Chesapeake Bay region, while This is the Plate is published by the University of Utah Press and is about all aspects of Utah foodways.
A good locally-focused bookstore ought to be able to make recommendations relevant to your region. I'm still looking for a killer recipe for Brunswick Stew, a dish that both Georgia and Virginia claim as their own.
For example, I never knew about Sweet Potato Pie until I moved to Washington, DC and started eating in soul food restaurants.
From the La Cocina cookbook.
Or oyster stuffing, which is common in the Chesapeake Bay region and the Pacific Northwest, where oysters are grown. Or Mashed Turnips instead of mashed potatoes--they're really really good.
Many public markets and farmers markets publish cookbooks, which would be a great regionally-relevant gift.
Maine Farm Table Cookbook and the Chelsea Market Cookbook are great. So are books published by artisan markets like San Francisco's Bi-Rite Market's Eat Good Food and Seattle's Cooking from Scratch cookbook by the PCC Community Markets, or community food entrepreneurship programs, like San Francisco's We Are La Cocina: Recipes in Pursuit of the American Dream.
Many farmer's and public markets have cookbooks. Lancaster (Pennsylvania) Public Market has at least three. I like the one from St. Paul's Farmer's Market.
Photo © Victoria Harley / Nourish Books
Their focus is on shifting people from manufactured mass production bread to artisan bread, even the creation of micro-bakeries and "community supported bakeries."
It's maybe a bit hard core for me, but Bread on the Table is another bread baking book that is incredible in its detail.
But hands down, the easiest bread to bake comes from the recipes by Jim Lahey of the Sullivan Street Bakery in New York City, first popularized by an article in the New York Times in 2006--although it took me til 2020 to finally start baking it regularly. He compiled recipes into My Bread: The Revolutionary No-Work, No-Knead Method.
As long as you have a Dutch Oven, no knead bread is simple. If you don't, even this no knead ciabatta bread is quite easy.
Although The Good Book of Southern Baking: A revival of biscuits, cakes, and cornbread looks interesting too. (Although I have good recipes for biscuits and cornbread. The Indian Head cornmeal recipe--IH was once milled in Ellicott City, Maryland--is fine.)
Vegetables. Roasting vegetables is easy and makes them taste so great. Same with grilling. Although Steve Raichlen--he of the various BBQ shows on PBS and author of many cookbooks--takes grilling vegetables to new levels in How to Grill Vegetables.
Cooking at Home: Dinner. NYT food editor Sam Sifton's book See You on Sunday: A Cookbook for Family and Friends has a nice discussion of the value of eating together and great recipes.
African-American Foods. Chef and food personality Marcus Samuelsson has recently published The Rise: Black Cooks and the Soul of American Food ("Marcus Samuelsson: Erasing Black Culinary History Ignores 'The Soul Of American Food'," NPR). Samuelsson's PBS show "No Passport Required" is well worth watching.
Another good book is Jubilee (Recipes from Two Centuries of African American Cooking) by food journalist Toni Tipton-Martin ("Toni Tipton-Martin Writes Her Own Legacy," NYT).
Garden/Yard. How about 50 ways to help save the bees or Composting For a New Generation: Latest Techniques for the Bin and Beyond.
6. Books on food activism. If your host is interested in food-related activism, how about:
-- The Stop: How the Fight for Good Food Transformed a Community and Inspired a Movement, about the repositioning of a food bank to a community food center in Toronto, which also touched off a national movement to shift how food banks operate in Canada ("Food activist Nick Saul on why we’re ripe for a revolution" and "Nick Saul: The man who built the foodie bank," Toronto Star).
A similar book was published in the US earlier in the year, but when I commented on a website article about it that the website failed to acknowledge that The Stop had been published many years before, they eliminated comments on that article. Still, Reinventing Food Banks and Pantries: New Tools to End Hunger looks to be an important book.
And also by Island Press, Food Town, USA: Seven Unlikely Cities That are Changing the Way We Eat, which discusses community food systems and innovative programs in seven communities across the country, including Lehigh Valley Pennsylvania and Boise--home to the Tomato Independence Project, which encourages people to grow their own ("Building a Better Tomato," Edible Idaho).
A couple of older books in this vein, are The Town that Food Saved: How One Community Found Vitality in Local Food, about the development of a more locally based food economy in Hardwick, Vermont ("Frontlines of a food revolution," Los Angeles Times), and Reclaiming Our Food: How the Grassroots Food Movement is Changing the Way We Eat, which features short chapters on various best practice initiatives across the county.