Feast of Kings

New Research on Feast, Thanks, and Retail

Much research goes into understanding how our environment prompts relentlessly rising problems with obesity – with good reason. Much of that research focuses on the substance of the food itself. The characteristics of ultra-processed food is a favorite topic right now. So we find delight in recent research that focuses instead on the broader context of our food environment. Diana Thomas and a distinguished group of collaborators looked closely at the American ritual feast of Thanksgiving and its shift from a celebration of thanks to one that is more about food, football, and retail.

The Same Feast, a Different Celebration

Thomas et al analyzed the social context of Thanksgiving in America all the way back to 1621. They examine the energy content and qualities of what was served as well. Then they analyze current social perceptions of the holiday based on content exchanged through the internet in recent history.

Remarkably, the content of Thanksgiving feasts has not changed much for more than a century. Thomas found that the food and its energy content is much the same now as it was in the 19th century. But what has very much changed is the social context. The authors explain:

“Since 1621, the social context of Thanksgiving has evolved from a focus on prayer and celebrated gratitude to a focus on food, football, and retail. What is served on Thanksgiving and its energy content has not substantially changed since the late 18th century. On the other hand, body weights and mean energy intake have steadily increased over time with the most rapid increases occurring since 1941. The shift in the social context of Thanksgiving and other factors of an existing obesogenic environment have likely combined to generate increased energy intake and weight gain during Thanksgiving.”

The Human Interaction with Food

Could it be that the quality of our interactions with food are as important as the substance of the food itself? Perhaps a feast that focuses upon gratification rather than gratitude has different effects on us. For one thing, it might lead us to different patterns of consumption for the very same foods.

We grant that this is speculation, but suggest that our thinking about the obesogenic nature of our environment should be broader than just an analysis of the substance of the food itself. Context matters for shaping human behavior.

The Nourishment of Gratitude

Something that is pretty clear is the value of gratitude for our health and well being. In fact, a recent study shows that an expression of gratitude lifts our spirits. It’s true  whether we express it to ourselves, privately to another person, or publicly. We gain more positive emotions, outlook, and connections to others.

Perhaps we would do well to shift the focus of our feast day just a bit from football, food, and retail – toward thanks.

Click here for the Thomas paper on Thanksgiving and here for the research on gratitude.

Feast of Kings, painting by Pavel Filonov / WikiArt

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November 24, 2022

2 Responses to “New Research on Feast, Thanks, and Retail”

  1. November 24, 2022 at 8:43 am, Angie Golden said:

    Thank you and publically let me say I am grateful for you and this daily blog!!!! Today I will be sure there is a bit more gratitude during the feasting (and football)

  2. November 24, 2022 at 9:10 am, Allen Browne said:

    Yup – THANKS!!!!