Thanksgiving: From Bounty to Blessings
Bounty and blessings are two distinct aspects of this Thanksgiving day in America. Many images of the holiday evoke a bountiful feast. In a classic study, Melanie Wallendorf and Eric Arnould described Thanksgiving as a consumption ritual.
Thanksgiving Day is a collective ritual that celebrates material abundance enacted through feasting. Thanksgiving Day both marks and proves to participants their ability to meet basic needs abundantly through consumption. So certain is material plenty for most U.S. citizens that this annual celebration is taken for granted by participants. Not just a moment of bounty but a culture of enduring abundance is celebrated.
Are we are ready to rethink those consumption rituals?
Until the 1980s, nutrition worries revolved around children growing up scrawny. Obesity was not such a worry. Food might have been bountiful on a holiday. But for the rest of the year, portions were slim. Food budgets were tight. The military rejected many recruits who were skinny, weak, or otherwise under nourished. School nutrition standards set a minimum for calories, but no upper limits.
Bounty is no longer a question.
For $11.99, Shoney’s will serve you all the Thanksgiving food you can eat. Bountiful, cheap food loaded with sugar, salt, and fat surrounds us. So people are becoming increasingly focused on the quality of the food they consume. The various buzzwords – fair trade, organic, GMO-free – are attracting consumers and commanding a premium. Some of it is meaningful. Some of it is fluff.
It’s part of a larger trend. People are seeking better experiences, not more stuff. Retailers are feeling a pinch as millennials lead this consumer trend. More and more consumer spending is going toward buying experiences rather than things.
And in the midst of this trend, American holiday traditions are definitely shifting. A huge Thanksgiving meal with a large extended family still happens, but its importance is shrinking, say the ethnographic researchers at CultureWaves. Changing values about the qualities and healthfulness of food are transforming the meal. More often now, people want smarter portions. They savor food for the pleasure it brings, not for its sheer volume.
However gradual it may be, the consumption rituals of Thanksgiving are indeed changing. We are moving away from focusing on a bounty of food. We are moving toward celebrating the blessings of richly rewarding experiences.
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November 24, 2016