Gratitude For Life

At my house, preparations for Thanksgiving have already started. We do a thorough clean up of the house to mark the end of the season. We prepare the space for the spirit of the holiday to fill our thoughts and hearts.

Thanksgiving is an important holiday for me. It is a celebration of the end of the growing season here in New England. We give thanks for the harvest, for our friends and family, and for our lives. But Thanksgiving has also a historical foundation. We remember the courage of the first Europeans to cross the Atlantic ocean into a new, unknown continent. We also celebrate the compassion and generosity of the natives who saved them from starvation by sharing with them their harvest and hunt.

As the story goes, the natives gave the newcomers turkey, and so it is traditional to eat turkey on Thanksgiving. It is obvious to me that the settlers did not eat just the white meat of the turkey. They probably came from Europe with the knowledge of how to use all the parts including the bones.

At the time that our founding fathers settled here, each family - even if not actively farming - held a small herd of farm animals for “personal use” in the root cellar or in a small barn: a couple of chickens for eggs, pigs for meat and lard, and a cow for milk. Animals were butchered either because they became old and stopped producing milk or eggs, or for special celebrations such as a holiday or a wedding. In any case, the family had a personal relationship with the animal that was butchered. An attitude of reverence and gratitude for the life that was sacrificed in order to provide us with food.

Today, the majority of us purchase meat in the supermarket. It comes cut into parts, cleaned, and wrapped in shiny plastic. It does not bear any resemblance to the animal that it once was. In our experience, we do not connect the meat that we eat with a living animal. So the feeling of reverence and gratitude do not follow. 

It is interesting to note that at the same time that people started to buy most of their food in a supermarket and many farms resemble a factory more than a barn, the vegetarian and vegan movements began.

After caring for both goats and chickens on our farm, my experience is that a real close bond is created between man and animals. Farm animals trust us to care for them in exchange for giving us their milk, eggs and eventually their life. Kneeling beside Lila, our temperamental goat, my cheek on her stomach, feeling her body warmth, and hearing her belly rumble while milking her made me that much more grateful for her milk than any milk I have ever bought. But in the last decade or so we humans severed that bond of trust. We treat our farm animals as a resource and their life as a commodity.

One way to express your reverence and gratitude to the gift of life is to use every part of the animal, including the bones. Bone broth can be made from all the bones and the internal parts of the turkey (or any other meat you prepare).

The basic bone broth:

Use the bones from chicken, beef or pork. You can mix them.

Cover with room temperature water. If you got a well you can use your tap water. If you are in the city use spring water.

Add two tablespoons of organic apple cider vinegar.

Bring to boil and simmer for twelve hours or more. Strain the stock. Keep the stock in the refrigerator for up to five days. If you decide to freeze your stock remember to allow ample space for it to expand. It happened to us and it is so sad when a jar filled with the best stock brakes. You can use your stock in a base for soups, to cook grains, or for stews and casseroles.

For more elaborate recipes look at Sally Fallon’s book “Nourishing Traditions”. It is a great book to have, filled with good recipes, but more than that it has simple guidelines that can help you develop your own creativity in the kitchen.

Bone broth is very beneficial for the bones. Since bone stock contains high levels of calcium and magnesium, they promote the formation of healthy bones, hair, and nails. After you cooked your bone broth and you let it cool down, you will notice that it becomes thick and forms a gelatin. This gelatin, hydrophilic colloid, attracts and holds liquids, including digestive juices, thereby supporting proper digestion.  As an added bonus you get a couple of different compounds from the boiled down cartilage that reduces joint pain and inflammation. Last but not least, bone broth is soothing for the soul.

“The therapeutic efficacy of chicken, chicken soup and other fowl is extensively described in the medical writing of Moses Maimonides. In his book “on the causes of symptoms” , also know as “medical response”, he recommended the meat of hens or roosters and their broth because this type of fowl has the property of rectifying corrupted humors, especially the black humor (I.e black bile, an excess of which was thought to cause melancholy)”

~ Fred Rosner in Medicine in the Bible and the Talmud: Selections from Classical Jewish Sources

When you sit around the Thanksgiving table this year, give thanks to life. The life of the turkey and the vegetables on your plate. The life that was given to you and your loved ones and the life of those you don't really love. Life is the most precious gift that was given to us. Let's hold it dear.

In our world, today, so much life is taken for granted. So much life is snapped out violently and carelessly. We need to remember that every life, be it small or large, has a meaning. That we are all part of the tapestry of life. None of us could survive without the vegetables and farm animals giving us their lives. None of us would be able to survive without other humans. Let us remember to give thanks to Life.