Eating Thanksgiving Dinner in a Restaurant is Cheating Y/N

People spend ludicrous amounts of money on Thanksgiving. If you’re hosting, there’s food and drink shopping to be done; if you’re guest-ing, usually there’s traveling. It is nearly impossible to come away from this holiday not feeling lighter in the pockets — although, if you’ve done it right, you should feel commensurately lighter in the heart, I guess. That’s something.

One way to circumvent some of the stress as well as, maybe, some of the traditional costs of Thanksgiving is to have the centerpiece dinner in a restaurant. When I grew up, though, that was unthinkable. The electricity went out once while my family was preparing and it only took one phone call for us to relocate the entire meal-in-progress, caravan-style, from our dark kitchen to a friend’s house, where we continued cooking furiously as if nothing had happened. Even that year, my mother would never have accepted “give up and go out” as an option.

For other people, paying strangers to prepare their Thanksgiving food is no different than enjoying any prepared meal. But it feels different to me. It’s kind of maybe cheating?

I tried to come to terms with this in a blog entry I wrote several years ago:

“What is the point of Thanksgiving? Is it a stuck-in-there holiday to make November more bearable and give us all a long weekend? Is it to juice the travel industry? To remind us all to feel vaguely guilty about Native Americans (although not so much that it puts us off our food)? Was it an early attempt by enviro-conscious, earnest, lefty, do-gooding, Farmer’s Market types to get us all to eat seasonally and — perhaps — locally?

Is it a family dysfunction dress rehearsal, the main event of which is Christmas? Is it about eating, or cooking AND eating, or cooking AND eating AND being with family?

I ask because the question arose at lunch today: Is it cheating to have Thanksgiving dinner at a restaurant?

My instinct is that it is. The point of the holiday isn’t to partake of cranberry sauce, which is possibly the best $1.99, straight-out-of-the-can food there is, but to partake of cranberry sauce across the table from someone you might not ordinarily see or (heaven forbid) even like all that much. And somebody you know and possibly love — not some line cook paid $8.50 an hour — has to scrape that cranberry sauce out of the can and into a bowl. Otherwise, so help me, it just doesn’t count.”

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