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Barbara O'Brien

Thanksgiving Thoughts

By November 21, 2012

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Thanksgiving is an American holiday centered on the consumption of large amounts of food.  Of course, Thanksgiving can also be a lovely time in which families get together and enjoy each others' company. Sometimes we even remember to be thankful.

We might also remember that most of the genetically engineered birds to be consumed this week lived their brief lives in inhumane conditions. But if you plan to maintain your spiritual purity by skipping the turkey and filling up on the vegetables and sweet potatoes, think again. American agriculture depends on migrant workers, most of them undocumented, to provide the abundance of food most of us take for granted. Their living conditions may not be much better than the turkey's.

And it's almost certain that something on the Thanksgiving table -- the cloves in the pumpkin pie, perhaps -- has been imported, and the lives of the workers involved in producing that food product may be very hard, indeed. There's a lot of economic injustice in food, and unless you are in the rare circumstance of being able to grow your own food, there's no avoiding the injustice.

Now that you are thoroughly bummed out, take heart. Surely some of the people whose labor brought you that food do enjoy their jobs. Appreciate that. Appreciate the care and love that went into the cooking. Appreciate the tradition's history. Appreciate and enjoy the company.  Consider supporting the United Farm Workers and the Humane Farming Association. Remember to be thankful.

One translation of the Zen Five Reflections begins, "Seventy-two labors brought us this food; we should know how it comes to us." These days, the number of labors, and the number of people involved in the vast global chain involved in putting that one meal on the table, is beyond counting.  Appreciate that this is the way life is; suffering and pleasure, injustice and love.

Remember to be thankful. And enjoy the sweet potatoes.

November 22, 2012 at 1:10 am
(1) buddhanonymous says:

Some years ago, a talk radio host complained that there was a “war against Christmas.” In the last two-three years, there has arisen a war against Thanksgiving. Retail giants, desperate to arouse still more greed, are opening earlier and earlier, depriving their underpaid employees of a day with their families, and demanding that workers start shifts at 9 or 10 PM on Thanksgiving Day.

I suggest an ecumenical effort to defend Thanksgiving- a holiday in accord with all spiritual traditions. The idea of Thanksgiving – a day to reflect on what we have, instead of what we lack- is particularly resonant for Buddhists. I like the idea of a specific day set aside to practice gratitude.

In modern America, the idea of gratitude for what we have has been overlaid with an impossibly groaning board, followed by football. – and now followed by rioting shoppers. Is it possible to rescue Thanksgiving from greed?

November 22, 2012 at 8:51 pm
(2) Byblos says:

I’m thankful for Barbara’s middle-way perspective on this. All the dukkha involved in the global economy is indeed a bummer. Focus on gratitude, and the rightest action we can muster, helps alleviate the dukkha closest to home, ie that bundle of stuff called me.

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