Beyond blessings this Thanksgiving
This week, families will be gathering across the nation for Thanksgiving (hopefully via Zoom to see folks who do not live in your own household – note that Zoom has graciously lifted time restrictions so that friends and family can be together virtually for as long as desired without risk of spreading covid), and many will take part in gratitude activities and sharing reasons to be thankful. And that is wonderful, I’m a big fan of regular gratitude practices because of the many positive social, emotional, and psychological benefits from this. If you need a reminder of how gratitude affects your brain, go here. But what can we do during this season of thanks to go beyond simply counting our own blessings, to recognizing where they come from in the first place? And how do we ensure that our blessings are not at the expense of someone else’s?
One way to pay attention to how our experiences may be unknowingly affecting others is through being intentionally aware of where our products come from. For Thanksgiving, this looks like being mindful of where the food you are eating came from and reflecting on the journey taken for this food to arrive at your dinner table. Much of the food we eat here comes from other countries and/or farmerworkers who may not be adequately compensated for their efforts.
Did you know that the United States has different labour laws for farmworkers? Some of these include being paid below the minimum wage and loopholes in child labour laws which allow children to work in the fields alongside their parents. Often, this affects migrant labourers – those who enter the country for a specified period of time to harvest crops, usually earning less than the federally mandated minimum wage in the process. And often, their children are working as well instead of being in school with their peers. You can learn more about some of these issues here. As you eat your meal this Thursday, ask yourself whose hands worked hard to ensure that the bounty of food you are grateful for was available to you.
So much of what we purchase and consume comes from elsewhere, whether it is imported from another country or shipped from another state. Much of what we eat is not in season all year round, and yet we have access to it because of the trade and transit which makes this possible. Our lives are dependent on and interconnected with those we may never see in ways we often don’t pause to even realize. It really is amazing to think about though!
Here is your task for this week: pay attention to where everything you touch is coming from. Read the packages as you’re preparing your Thanksgiving meal. Where does the produce come from? What about the meat? The drinks you’re enjoying? I took a quick glance through my fridge and looked in my fruit drawer to see where everything originated from this evening. The blueberries are from Peru, the cherries from Chile, the kiwis are from New Zealand (I feel like there’s a good joke there somewhere), the cranberries are from Massachusetts, the mangoes are from Brazil, the bananas are from Guatemala, and the raspberries are from Florida. I’m in North Carolina. It’s astonishing to think that so many different people around the world worked so hard just so that I could have one drawer of fruit in my fridge.
And what about the clothes you’re wearing for the festivities this week? Check the tag quickly and see what country they were made in. Same for any number of other items in your home – the decorations you’ve put out, the tablecloth and placemats lovingly arranged, the television you’re watching, the music player you’re listening to, etc., etc. It strikes me that between food and household items, a lot of our items come from somewhere in either South America or Asia – two regions of the world often vilified in U.S. policies and rhetoric. What does it mean to be sustained by the very people our nation frequently condemns? Interesting thought to ponder.
Now, think for a few moments about the people who made it possible for those items to arrive in your home. What might their lives be like? What are the chances that they are enjoying the same blessings as you are today? How can you demonstrate gratitude for their work in your everyday life if you never come in contact with these people in any way? Consider the path that these items took to reach you, and what policies are in place which may affect those along the chain of distribution. Can we ethically eat the food brought to our table by migrant workers’ hands and yet deny them or their loved ones access to safety at our borders simultaneously? Should we be concerned about the wages made by someone making our clothes in Asia if it means the items we purchase cost less here if they are paid less as well? And if you really want to blow your mind, spend a minute to google where the cobalt used in our electronics comes from, and ask yourself about your role in the chain of consumption and the effects this has on those who are doing the mining of the metals required therein.
If you find that anything in this exercise sparks your interest, write to your legislators and ask them to talk to you about issues you care about. Make it a regularly habit to inquire at retailers where you shop about their ethical and fair trade practices. Some people may say that these types of “conscious consumerism” practices make very little change in the world, but I disagree. When we take the time to recognize that we are all truly interconnected, and that our choices really are part of a chain of events which affect others, we often find that our perspectives begin to shift. And when our perspectives begin to shift, behaviour begins to change, and other people often take notice as well. There are ripple effects which may come from your decision to be intentionally mindful of consumption – and that is a powerful change.
This Thanksgiving, when you sit down to your meal, if you are inclined to say a prayer, remember to include the farmworkers (migrant or otherwise) who worked hard so that you can eat, the garment workers who stitched together your clothes, the factory workers who packaged everything in boxes, and the delivery drivers who brought the items to your store or home. Take a moment to be grateful for the intertwined nature of our lives and how many blessings are truly contained therein. Go beyond counting the blessings that you see immediately around you and strive to make deeper connections to recognize where these blessings originate from.
And consider what changes can be made to ensure that everyone has equitable access to the blessings you enjoy as well. Because that would truly be something to be thankful for!