by Daphne Muse

While some will sit down at grandly appointed tables in the mansions of the “nouveau noir riche” — the new Black rich — millions of others will dine off metal trays filled with the fare found in nursing homes, prisons and mental institutions. There will be folding tables decorated with crepe paper flowers crafted by children living in group homes, where they, too, struggle to build and sustain some sense of family and community.

In what’s become a rite of passage, churches have invited legions of volunteers to prepare meals for the country’s growing number of those foreclosed out of homes, as well as those for whom a mortgage will never be a reality. Now impoverished and dispossessed, many have been turned out to navigate life on the edgy urban streets and along craggy creeks in rural enclaves.

Then there are families like the Bonilla’s of Oakland, Calif., who proudly hold fast to honoring indigenous peoples. They continue their more than 20-year-old tradition of making the journey to Alcatraz, where they will join thousands of others as they watch Pomo dancers and listen to the All Nations Singers at a sunrise ceremony celebrating Native American cultures and traditions. Afterwards, they will gather with friends over brunch honoring sacred traditions pre-dating the seizure and colonization of indigenous people and their land.

What once was strictly a turkey and apple pie tradition now has evolved into a rite of passage where people from a myriad of cultures and traditions have tweaked the Thanksgiving meal, infusing it with their own culinary practices.

On linen, straw and plastic-covered tables across the country, the oven-roasted, bourbon-barbecued, brined, fried, tofu-mushroom, Thai-infused or salsa-spiced turkey will be carved and plated on family heirlooms brought out only for such special occasions.

Sweet potatoes, complete with freshly grated coconut and swimming in rum, will appear dressed in gourmet Hawaiian attire. The aroma of stuffing made from a combination of three-day-old French bread and traditional cracklin’ cornbread, served with Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon giblet gravy, will waft from kitchens from L.A. to New York.

Cranberry salsa relish, Laotian corn pudding and bok choy with turnip greens will be ceremoniously presented from commercial kitchens and private homes across the country, as Pennsylvania Dutch pumpkin pies, pastel de tres leches (three milk cakes) and plantain soufflés lay resting after their baking tour of the oven.

Then there are the grand elders, with arthritic knees, swollen ankles and deft hands, who will stand at the stove for endless hours stirring things that bubble, boil and crackle, while celebrity chefs dash dramatically from counter to counter sometimes fusing Middle Eastern spices with floral flavors creating desserts that wrap the tongue, leaving a perfume like fragrance on the palate.

In some instances, the Thanksgiving Day meal will be prepared by hands extended in gratitude trying to make the meal memorable for all the right reasons. Before we sit down to dine on an array of offerings, and as we heed the call of the leftovers, making those infamous, day-after turkey sandwiches and continue nibbling on the array of outrageous desserts, let us raise our glasses, issue up invocations, chants, songs or meditations in gratitude for those all who got the meal from the table, across our palates and into our stomachs.

Despite the environmental damage we are doing to the earth, it continues to burst forth with grapes from which the wine was made; wheat from which the grain was milled for flour to make crusts for legendary pies; and spices that conjure up long held memories sometimes calling us back to childhood.

Let us also remember to issue up hands filled with gratitude for those who bent their backs to pick the produce and sometimes drove through raging storms to deliver the tons of food we will consume.

And yes, do remember all the emergency room personnel who provide care to those who put themselves in peril, as a result of setting the house aflame from frying the turkey indoors, spiking the eggnog too heavily or attacking their hearts by consuming too much food.

Daphne Muse is the director of the Women’s Leadership Institute at Mills College and a social commentator on public radio.

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