November 21, 2016
Things might be awkward around many Thanksgiving tables this year as families struggle to recalibrate after a particularly divisive election.
Students in the senior capstone course for French majors, Seminar on French and Francophone Literature and Culture, explored creatively the intersection of food and politics.
"After analyzing chocolate croissants and couscous as literary symbols and political tools in the context of contemporary France, we went off-syllabus to study with the discourses surrounding our presidential election and our upcoming Thanksgiving meal," said Sylvia Grove, visiting assistant professor of French at Susquehanna University.
Grove asked her students to write essays on the topic, several of which were published by New Food Economy, a food journalism website.
Blending humor and sincerity, they urged a coming-together by focusing on our similarities, not our differences.
Natalie Ciabattoni, a senior French and philosophy major from Morgantown, Pa., compared the Thanksgiving dinner table to the plates in front of those seated around the table.
"All of the foods and all of the people come from different places," Ciabattoni wrote. "... whether from soil to plate or from upbringing and experience; and all parts of the meal represent different identities, whether through their flavor or their political ideas."
But how do we handle these differences, Ciabattoni asked.
"On our physical plate, sometimes we keep (our food) neatly separated. Other times we mix everything together," she wrote. "How we manage our plate affects how we experience our meal. How we talk about politics affects how we experience the company of others."
Amanda DuCharme, a senior French and creative writing major from Selinsgrove, Pa., also urged reunification, based on the symbolism of the original 17th-century harvest meal.
"Thanksgiving isn't supposed to be about what divides us anyway," she wrote. "A holiday built on the legend of two very different sets of people coming together and sharing, Thanksgiving is an acceptance of differences."
Turns out, this skill has a name: gastrodiplomacy. Really.
"For generations, food has given individuals the opportunity to communicate and exchange ideas," wrote Aminata Diallo, a sophomore international studies, diplomacy, French and political science major from Bronx, N.Y. "Sure, it can get annoying when your aunt hashtags #BuildThatWall, but it's possible to coexist at the Thanksgiving table and still bond over what's before us: a huge turkey and a nation's future."