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November 24, 2005

Between Plymouth Rock and a hard place

By Michel Lee

Thanksgiving is truly a unique experience in the Lee household. 

In addition to the fact that all seven of us are extremely hearty eaters, we are all vegetarians (with the exception of my father). Now, normally, being vegetarian wouldn't be such a problem.

But at Thanksgiving, when families across the United States celebrate the quintessential American holiday, our family finds itself between Plymouth Rock and a hard place.

I'm sure that our dilemma is fairly clear-cut here. It's given that vegetarians do not partake of fowl, which includes turkeys or any other type of meat.

That means that Thanksgiving can be a downright miserable time for us.

My mother is, euphemistically put, an innovative cook.

Come Thanksgiving Day, she's laid out an entire table of veggee-turkey-casserole and green beans marinated in onion juice. (She's also very health-conscious.)  I laud her for those novel concoctions, but it's not a good sign when your grandfather starts mistaking the prune chocolate cake for the tofu-stuffing.

As if that isn't enough, we're also Koreans.

I don't mean to reinforce any racial stereotypes, but our family is deeply imbibed in the traditional Korean culture.

And, as you might know, one of the basic characteristics of any culture is its cuisine.

So imagine this:  My mother's enigmatic culinary creations on the table. My grandfather walking in with an entire pressure cooker of rice. Our neighbor running through the door with a bowl of pickled cabbage. A tray of forks, spoons, knives and cheap wooden chopsticks on top of a stack of paper and Styrofoam plates. And our Caucasian friends looking slightly puzzled and awkward. 

My father's rationale for this delightful amalgam of foods is that food is food. It's all the same in your stomach.

Besides, it doesn't matter if the vegetarian turkey casserole is slathered with bean paste and gulped down by the plateful. (My brother can attest to that.). Right? Right. For once, I agree with him.

Although Thanksgiving experience is a bit eccentric in our family, I have to admit that it never fails to teach me a lesson, year after year. 

For one, Thanksgiving is not all about food!

Our society places so much emphasis on this "day of feasting" that we have come to the conclusion that gorging ourselves on turkey, or lack thereof, is a way of showing our gratitude for the blessings of the past year.

Yet how can gluttony equal thankfulness?

By overindulging, we only dull our minds and become apathetic to the needs of others who are less fortunate.

Thanksgiving also reminds me of the wide variety of cultures present in the United States.

Are we not blessed to be such a diverse nation?

For most, Thanksgiving celebrates American history.

I dwell between two cultures. I can appreciate the laudable accomplishments of the Pilgrims, the Founding Fathers, and all those who contributed to development of this nation truly blessed by God.

At the same time, I revel in how my personal history is different from the rest --- my grandparents' journey from China to Korea, my mother's immigration to the United States, my father's childhood in poverty, and the vast amount of Korean culture retained by our family.

So I would like to think that our Thanksgiving table is a reflection of our family's characteristics.

As we partake of the food, we remember that we are all unique, and we are deeply grateful for it. 


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