If nothing else, the Thanksgiving holiday weekend provides a much-needed break. The election is over, and business takes at least a momentary pause. School stops on Tuesday, work stops on Wednesday, the stock market closes on Thursday. For nearly a whole week we replace our march of averages, indices, and trends with a procession of things easier to understand: dinner, dessert, drinks.
And that's a literal, not a conceptual procession. Food items rattle by on the grocery store conveyor, giving a snapshot of coming meals. And, hold on: snapshot. Maybe it's prediction withdrawal, maybe it's pundit envy, maybe it's just habit. But in this culture of trying to figure out every vote or market swing beforehand, I have found in that humming grocery parade of boxes, bags, and freshly misted produce a reliable indicator not just of future meals but of family status. Call it the Family Checkout Food Index or something equally portentous, but I believe that grocery purchases tell a great deal about our world.
Thanksgiving week is simple: A fresh turkey? We're not traveling. Jello and canned fruit imply children needing pacification. The big thing of peanut butter means nobody's buying school lunches for a few days.
But the index predicts more than the specific and immediate. In general, the grocery conveyor correlates with family status remarkably well. If what goes by is ingredients -- flour, vegetables, spices -- we're doing well. We have time to cook, we're prospering. The rotisserie chicken may be cheaper, but actually roasting a bird creates an experience. It's place making, as the urban planners say. Ingredients are like investing -- in what my wife calls "food infrastructure," enabling the cupboards to adequately handle future Thursday evening dinner crises.
A line of boxes, on the other hand -- frozen things, instant things, rice, mac, or other -aroni products -- are more like the payday lending of food: they'll get us through the week, but we're not building anything, and we probably should be protected from ourselves.
You can read too much into these predictions, of course. But some indicators are so accurate they border on scientific certainty. For example, we just bought several bottles of wine. This suggests that whether we're hosts, guests, or just hanging around this weekend, we can expect at least a short-term dip in major stress indicators.
So may you all.