Since we are now in November, I thought I’d reveal this month’s National food holidays, not counting Thanksgiving.
November 2 National Deviled Egg Day
November 4 National Candy Day
November 5 National Doughnut Day
November 6 National Nachos Day
November 7 National Bittersweet Chocolate with Almonds Day
November 10 National Vanilla Cupcake Day
November 12 National Pizza with the Works Except Anchovies Day
November 13 National Indian Pudding Day
November 14 National Guacamole Day
November 15 National Spicy Hermit Cookie Day
November 20 National Peanut Butter Fudge Day
November 23 National Cashew Day
November 25 National Parfait Day
November 26 National Cake Day
November 27 National Bavarian Cream Pie Day
November 28 National French Toast Day
November 29 National Chocolates Day
November 30 National Mousse Day
As we prepare for the extravagant feast that signifies American Thanksgiving, we would do well to remember the holiday’s unusual origins. This National holiday was the brainchild of Sarah Josepha Hale, the editor of Godey’s Lady’s Book magazine, who campaigned for it tirelessly. Between 1846 and 1863 she lobbied all who would listen—seven presidents, endless congressmen, the governors of all the states—to have the last Thursday in November declared a day of a National thanksgiving, an act she believed would help heal the country’s profound social and political rifts. Her efforts finally succeeded. In 1863, in the middle of the Great American Rift, President Abraham Lincoln made Thanksgiving Day official.
Beyond the mythology that surrounds the holiday (the happy feast shared by Pilgrims and Native Americans; the big-breasted turkeys), we have to admire Hale’s intentions. She campaigned for community and the common good. She genuinely believed in fostering unity for the betterment of the nation. Today’s campaigns for certain national holidays are of a different ilk. I recently discovered that October 4 is National Vodka Day. Whose idea was this? Years ago, during the Cold War, I was the spokesperson for Stolichnaya vodka, under contract not to reveal that the importer of this Communist vodka was none other than the deeply American PepsiCo. But historical memory can be short. If an official vodka day can boost national sales, then who’s to complain? Diehard Communists or temperance workers? In fact, thanks to the efforts of the government or corporations, just about every day of the year in the U.S. is associated with a particular food or drink. Unlike Sarah Josepha Hale, the masterminds behind these campaigns are corporate strategists and professional lobbyists. With sufficient money, just about anyone can declare a national day, even anonymously; the sponsors behind many national food days are easy to infer but hard to uncover. How does this practice benefit the nation? It doesn’t, except to stimulate sales and, in the case of vodka, give people carte blanche to start drinking before the cocktail hour. President Obama’s 2010 declaration of September as National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month is an ironic addition to the holiday list; it appears alongside National Buffet Day and National Creampuff Day, both of which fall on January 2, should you want to indulge (or protest by abstaining).
Perhaps I should see in the holiday list a wonderful microcosm of American culinary diversity, one that promotes a kind of egalitarianism of taste. Spaghetti (also ravioli, tortellini, macaroni, and lasagna), tempura, marzipan, croissants, escargots, paella, gazpacho, empanadas, guacamole, Welsh Rarebit, Pfeffernüsse, and Sacher Torte—all are considered national American dishes, and all carry equal weight (though perhaps that’s the wrong metaphor to use). The list of food holidays may be amusing, but its lack of transparency is troubling. How many advertising dollars went into securing each place at the national table? Instead of declaring March 23 National Chip and Dip Day, couldn’t that money have been better spent to improve school lunches? If we want to celebrate National Clams on the Half Shell Day on March 31, wouldn’t we be better off enforcing the Clean Water Act, so that clams can thrive and we can eat them safely? Wouldn’t it be better if the national food days reflected genuine civic engagement instead of corporate interests? As we sit down to our Thanksgiving feasts, let us give a thought to Sarah Josepha Hale, who gave us a national day for a national purpose, a chance to celebrate together as one.