13 Feb Jonathan Safran Foer

We would arrive around two o’clock. The cousins would play football on the sloping sliver of a front yard until my little brother got hurt, at which point we would head up tot the attic to play football on the various video game systems. Two floors beneath us, Maverick salivated at the stove’s window, my father talked politics and cholesterol, the Detroit Lions played their hearts out on an unwatched TBV, and my grandmother, surrounded by her family, thought in the language of her dead relatives.

Two dozen or so mismatched chairs circumscribed four tables of slightly different heights and widths, pushed together and covered in matching cloths. No one was fooled into thinking this setup was perfect, but it ws. My aunt placed a small pile of popcorn kernels on each plate, which, in the course of the meal, we were supposed to transfer to the table as symbols of the things we were thankful for. Dishes came out continuously; some went clockwise, some counter, some zigzagged down the length of the table, sweet potato casserole, homemade rolls, green beans with almonds, cranberry connections, yams, buttery mashed potatoes, my grandmother’s wildly incongruous kugel, trays of gherkins and olives and marinated mushrooms, and a cartoonishly large turkey that had been put in the oven when last year’s was taken out. We talked and talked: about the Orioles and Redskins, changes in the neighborhood, our accomplishments, and the anguish of others (our own anguish was off-limits), and all the while, my grandmother would go from grandchild to grandchild, making sure no one was starving.


I’m writing these final words a few days before Thanksgiving. I live in New York now and only rarely – at least according to my grandmother – get back to DC. No one who was young is young anymore. Some of those who transferred kernels to the table are gone. And there are new family members. (I am now we.) As if the musical chairs I played at birthday parties were preparation for all of this ending and beginning.

This will be the first year we celebrate in my home, the first time I will prepare the food, and the first Thanksgiving meal at which my son will be old enough to eat the food the rest of us eat. If this entire book could be decanted into a single question – not something easy, loaded, or asked in bad faith, but a question that fully captured the problem of eating and not eating animals – it might be this: Should we serve turkey at Thanksgiving?