Millennials, or at least the coastal-elite version I cavort with, have a complicated relationship with that American holiday referred to as Thanksgiving. That’s probably because a more enlightened reading of American history has scrambled our feelings about the fourth Thursday in November.
First, there’s the genesis of the holiday, which children were once taught celebrated a communal harvest meal that native Americans shared with the New England colonists. Now, many of us realize that the colonists pushed those natives out with weapons and disease, and that those left were eventually forced onto reservations.
That much truth serum is tough to digest, especially on top of five servings of CO2-emitting turkey in the age of climate change, income disparity and global hunger. And how should we parents approach Thanksgiving, which ultimately is an innocuous gathering of family and loved-ones for a holiday meal, with our children?
Full disclosure: I adore Thanksgiving. Maybe the problem is that we millennial Angelinos do not put enough emphasis on the holiday’s celebration of gratitude and shared experience with family. These are values I want to impart to my sons, Hank and Leo, and I’m willing to let Thanksgiving’s questionable origins take a back seat.
There are plenty of ways millennials can spice up and add meaning to their holiday. One example is to address the significance and symbolism of the day with activities and games. You can watch the Detroit Lions lose, sure, but you can also lead a dinner-table discussion about gratitude and what you’re thankful for, have the kids prepare a sketch or play about sharing, donate leftovers or prepare additional food for local food banks.
You can also enjoy some bonding and exercise. Some friends of ours organize their own flag-football game after the meal, working off some calories and making room so that they can come back for more turkey and gravy.
Speaking of food, my millennial companions can be divided into two camps when it comes to what to put on the Thanksgiving table: the fresh-foodie traditionalists and the vegan-freegan buffet with friends.
In Mar Vista, some millennial neighbors of ours throw a Thanksgiving party every year – and they are so nontraditional they don’t have the meal until the Saturday after Thanksgiving. It’s an international potpourri featuring yams, green beans and carrots from their garden, plus moussaka, grape leaves, flatbread and black bean chili. There’s no meat, but what they lack in protein they make up for with ample booze. The party atmosphere is helped by the hard cider (gluten free, of course), small-batch tequila and organic Petite Syrah. Hank loves to play with their kids and we enjoy the atmosphere and camaraderie. However, we Parfreys leave hungry.
The traditionalists share a more filling feast. These millennials – aspiring chefs, grill maestros and cooking addicts – strategize about Thanksgiving months in advance, which makes for good eating and lots and lots of food. You might even find them at Erewhon, arguing over the best method for cooking a turkey. Does one smoke their turkey? Brine? Dry brine? Cook the stuffing inside or outside the bird?
These amateur chefs are not calling the Butterball hotline – they are following the latest food blogger trends, reading New York Times recipes and Anthony Bourdain’s thoughts on proper roasted-turkey skin color. I am guilty of embracing this millennial food craze. Last year, Hank helped me brine and spatchcock our Thanksgiving turkey.
A little natural curiosity and culinary experimentation can make Thanksgiving fun and novel. Pairing the classic stuffing, cranberry sauce, potatoes and beans with some international dishes or new techniques adds to the holiday flavor. My talented older sister seems to have a foot in each millennial cooking camp. Her holiday meal is never vegan, always communal and always inspired by various cuisines.
This mix seems to counteract the holiday’s dicey origins and bring the focus to the values that make it worthwhile. It’s a good Thanksgiving philosophy to strive for. And fortunately, Hank, an adventurous eater, will try anything.
Isaac Parfrey is a writer, composer and L.A. native who enjoys roaming Southern California with his wife, Kate, and sons, Hank and Leo. Follow him on Twitter at @IsaacParfey.