Norman Rockwell, where are you when we need you? You’re certainly not there any more for a lot of us baby boomers and especially not for Santa Barbara’s Barbara Greenleaf, who says her annual Thanksgiving family feast has become the holiday meal from hell.

In depictions of Christmas dinner circa 1952, Mother came out of the kitchen perfectly coiffed and dressed to the nines in high heels, stockings, and a ruffled hostess apron. She was inevitably beaming as she presented her equally well-scrubbed family with the ultimate token of her love: a plump, glazed turkey. We could rightfully assume that everyone dug into said bird in unison: one dish, one ensemble of happy diners.

Oh, thems were the days! Last Thanksgiving I had so many custom orders that, unlike the Donna Reed look-alike of the 1950’s, I emerged from the kitchen with jumpy eyes, disheveled hair, and a nervous tic. Here’s why:

  • George had suffered a mild heart attack and couldn’t eat fat.
  • Cyndi had seen a movie on the industrialization of food production and no longer ate anything with eyes.
  • Mike had tested high for blood sugar, so no dessert for him.
  • Lucy was all in on the Paleo diet and just wanted to gnaw on some bones.
  • Alice insisted on an Old Testament mix based on spelt, an old form of wheat, called Scripture Bread. “It embodies thousands of years of unbroken human-plant co-evolution, effort, and reverence,” she intoned to the multitude. “Gag me with a spoon,” I intoned to myself.
  • Susie had a gluten intolerance and not only wouldn’t eat the stuffing, even the salad dressing was out. (It’s amazing all the products that contain gluten. Who knew?)
  • Little Benny never took to vegetables, so it didn’t occur to me to serve him greens. Even I had to admit that an all-white meal isn’t the healthiest for a kid but, I rationalized, it was only for one night and then it was his parents’ problem.
  • Peter is okay with almonds, peanuts, and cashews but is highly allergic to walnuts. OMG… which nut did I put in the apple pie topping and how many pieces did he eat?
  • The baby, I was told in no uncertain terms, only eats organic.
  • Pam is a passionate environmentalist, who said animals give off more carbon dioxide than cars (junk science we now know, but it’s an article of faith with her), so she is not about to perpetuate the destruction of the planet by eating anything that walks.
  • Sujin exhibited the Asian preference for dark meat, which she said is tastier than white, but since she eats almost nothing anyway, I registered her opinion and then promptly disregarded it.
  • Marissa recently lost 43 pounds and was watching her calories — need I say more?
  • Ginny wanted tofu turkey, which is the most disgusting thing I ever saw.
  • Marcy threw around the term “plant-based” so often that I wanted to throw her around. Give it a rest, already, I thought; we get the picture.
  • Derek, a devotee of the Food Channel, swore that the only way to make roast turkey is to soak it in brine and insert herbs under its skin. There was more about oven temperature, resting temperature, roux, and tin foil, but honestly, by that time I’d hit the sherry and couldn’t give a flying fig.

In fact, with all these designer Thanksgiving requests, I had completely lost my own appetite. Next year I think I’ll serve bread and water — but I’ll hold the bread, especially if it’s made with spelt and was featured in the Old Testament.

Copyright © 2018 Barbara Greenleaf


You can buy Barbara’s book here: “Children Through the Ages: A History of Childhood.”


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