When Did Thanksgiving Turn Into a Potluck?

Say I’ve invited you over for Thanksgiving and you’re wondering whether you should bring your semi-famous wilted Brussels sprouts salad with duck prosciutto, or your new favorite pumpkin-ginger soup with chermoula croutons. Let me make it easy for you.

Don’t bother with either.

All across America this week, hosts are Facebook-coordinating who’s bringing the rolls and the Beaujolais, who’s making the pies, and who’s stuffing a tofu loaf with mushrooms and vegan “cheddar.” But take it from me, a man with a certain amount of pride and enough of an account balance to spring for a turkey, half a dozen side dishes, and more than the bare minimum of wine: If I’m inviting you for dinner, then please, trust me to cover the food and drink.

Trouble is, I hate meals that end up as a patchwork of foods—of flavors and inspiration, even of varying technical skill—even though I know that makes me sound like sort of a dick. If I want to invite my friends and relatives to my own imagined re-creation of a Shaker harvest dinner, then damn it, I don’t particularly want to serve your pumpkin-okra couscous, no matter how earnest the intentions behind it.

Don't get me wrong, I get it. Unless you’re going to be the guest of your Sicilian-born mother-in-law, these days Thanksgiving is inevitably a collaborative effort. Blame late-stage Boomers, who learned to cook together in college co-ops, collectively staining the pages of Mollie Katzen’s The Enchanted Broccoli Forest. Blame their kids, who came to understand dinner parties as sharing sessions spent sitting around a thrift-shop coffee table. Why should Thanksgiving be anything other than the nation’s biggest annual collaborative meal, a great migration of Americans bearing foil-covered Pyrex baking dishes?

But because everybody's eager to show off for Thanksgiving, logistics are a nightmare—guests show up with shopping bags packed with dozens of containers. A salad turns out to require not just greens and vinaigrette, but fennel that will have to be shaved, avocados that must be sliced and fanned à la minute, croutons that need to be spread with goat cheese and fines herbes. It makes a wreck of your kitchen and leaves you dancing around your guests, wondering where to set down hot pans, waiting to slice the bird.

Case in point: My friend Chris once lugged over her KitchenAid stand mixer so she could blend the white chocolate and sour cream topping for her famous pumpkin cheesecake, filling up the sink with a dirty whisk and bowl, spatulas, plastic tubs, and torte rings. I chose passive aggression—another famous holiday tradition—scrubbing Chris's dirties as if they were blood-stained, depositing each in the dish drainer with a clatter loud enough to raise Squanto from the dead.

You could argue that Thanksgiving dinner is by its very nature frustrating and disorderly, an exercise in taking deep breaths and learning to accept chaos. Whoever did the illustrations in my fourth-grade social studies book certainly imagined the first Thanksgiving as an implausible mixer that must have taken a certain amount of patience: high-collared Puritans seated stiffly next to gleaming-haired Native Americans, as feathered or bonneted women set down dishes—succotash and johnny cakes courtesy of half-naked Wampanoags, pies and roast turkeys from dour-faced Pilgrims.

History fails to mention if the succotash spoiled the Puritans’ menu concept.

Image source: Flickr member massdistraction under Creative Commons