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Thanksgiving: A time to take your mind off the tough stuff

Commentator Scott Huler says Thanksgiving traditions create routine, routine creates simplicity, and simplicity creates a stress-free environment -- something we should all be thankful for.

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.

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" 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."

Maybe all the turkey tryptophan was fogging your brain when you pontificated thus. Have you ever considered that the reason people buy ingredients instead of processed food is because they care about their health? Processed foods, at minimum, are nutritionally deficient, and in many cases, toxic. Anyone who wants to keep or recover their health *must* do a majority of their own cooking.

And, as other posters have noted, it's cheaper to cook than to buy processed food (unless you're shopping at Whole Foods). That is, it's cheaper *if* you have easy access to decent ingredients, a basic set of kitchen tools, and the time between your multiple part-time jobs so many of us have.

Next Thanksgiving, try going beyond your writing desk and your own neighborhood for a holiday column idea.

For this family, we don't buy lots of boxes, we buy "ingredients" because it cost less. Not because we have been so prospers
that we have time to cook. We have to cook because we can't afford not to.

I like your story and the ideas comparing the way people buy food to payday lending, etc. Also, loved your phrase "food infrastructure."

Here, though, it's the opposite of the way you describe. Flour, etc. is what we usually use and is far cheaper than buying a finished product at the store. A handful of flour to make a sauce, for instance, costs literally pennies while the same amount that comes in a sauce packet costs 1.99. For twice that
you can buy a bag of whole wheat flour and make that gravy over and over(and with different flavors) for a couple months.

So, I see buying convenience foods as being more prosperous. I do agree with you, though, about the time involved.

I would add one thing missing from your family checkout index. People buying largely condiments like ketchup and mayo but not a lot of meat, eggs or milk might be small farmers running to the store for a bottle of heinz 57 because no matter what they say, homemade ketchup is just not the same.

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