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Gifts of Food

We recently had our holiday party at work, and I have to say it wasn’t at all geared towards someone trying to lose weight (or to a vegetarian, but that’s a different subject). Any potluck where one of the “salads” includes cut-up Snickers bars is definitely not for the weight self-conscious. Even some of the healthier items, like cut up veggies and strawberries, were meant to be dipped into something far more caloric (ranch dressing and a chocolate fountain, respectively). Other items, like the cookies and sponge cake and pinwheels and sauce-laden meats, made no pretense of being other than what they were.

Then we had our Yankee Swap. (For those unfamiliar with the term, it’s an event where people open presents based on a randomly chosen number, and they can then swap with an already-opened gift if they don’t like theirs.) As always some of the presents were re-gifted from previous years, some were silly (the “Porn for Women” calendar being a prime example), some were alcoholic, but many were food-related. A box of chocolates, four bars of specialty chocolates, an insulated picnic bag, a pottery set of olive oil dispensers and dipping dishes, candy necklaces, and some scatological ones of penguins and bears that “pooped” chocolate.

And it got me thinking about the way most of us perceive food. Had our potluck consisted of only healthy dishes, many would have been very disappointed and not felt very festive. Yet as it was, I wasn’t the only one who ate some of my own food because the potluck offerings were too rich. A better balance would have been nice, maybe a good vegetable soup, or roasted root vegetables with rosemary and olive oil. (I have to admit that even I don’t find garden salads particularly appealing this time of year, not in Maine with the cold settling into my bones.)

As for the Yankee Swap, I amused myself by thinking what the reaction would have been to give baby carrots, say, or a colorful and festive medley of bell peppers. I have no doubt that gift would have been the pariah of the party, traded away the instant it was received. After all, who gives vegetables for Christmas, or wants to receive them? I actually do know someone who did this – one of my more vivid childhood memories is of getting cans of spinach from my grandfather, who apparently wanted us to be like Popeye.

Much as I enjoy spinach now, I confess it would never occur to me to give it as a present. The closest I come these days is to give people pumpkin – but it’s well-disguised by being mixed with eggs, flour, oil, sugar and spice (and everything nice) to transform into bread. And that, at least, seems to be an acceptable gift.

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