Feast of Burden

Americans have forgotten how to feast. That is not to say that Americans don’t gorge themselves; quite the opposite is true. Overeating, over-drinking, and over-indulging generally have become so common that feasting has lost all meaning. In a world where one can eat whatever (and however much) one wants any day of the year, how any meal be special?

The traditional meal for Thanksgiving Day is a turkey dinner with ample (and generally starchy) sides. The traditional meal for the day after Thanksgiving is yesterday’s leftovers. Although it is literally the same food, the essence of Thursday’s meal and Friday’s could not be more different. The Thanksgiving dinner is a bounteous feast; Friday leftovers are a return to domestic economy. We roast a whole turkey—probably for the only time all year—on Thursday, and spend Friday boiling the bones. One day’s splurge is followed by thrift. But I suspect that few Americans still grasp this important dichotomy; feasting and fasting must go together to give each other meaning.

In our culture it is too easy to overeat constantly, without ever tightening the proverbial belt. The physical results are obvious; obesity is probably the most significant public health issue in the nation. But it is not just the food. Feasts are special because of their seasonality, the way in which they mark the passing of time and life’s momentous occasions. As our society becomes less connected to the seasons, life becomes more homogenous and we become less and less capable of recognizing and solemnizing the passage of time. Material abundance makes it possible to eat fresh tomatoes year-round and to keep our bedrooms the same temperature no matter the season, but it also numbs us to the miracle of that very abundance and renders us unable to truly celebrate it. We should live more simply so that we can feast more emphatically.

Beer of the week: Trëogs Fest Lager – “Fest”, naturally, is derived from the same root as “feast”, and in this case is a reference to Oktoberfest. This Oktoberfest-style beer is beautiful and clear red-brown with a rocky head. It has a toasty malt aroma, with just a bit of herbal hops. The flavor follows the aroma, with just a hint of caramel. Worthy of a real feast.

Reading of the week: The Country of the Pointed Firs by Sarah Orne Jewett – Jewett’s novel is set in Maine at the turn of the last century. This excerpt describes what a proper feast looks like in a place “where high days and holidays are few” and in the company of people whose “ancestors may have sat in the great hall of some old French house in the Middle Ages, when battles and sieges and processions and feasts were familiar things.”

Question for the week: How—and how often—do you celebrate?

Time of the season…

To every beer, there is a season and a time to every beverage under heaven.

Oktoberfest is a magical time of year. The brewers of Munich pump out many a delicious brew to satisfy their patrons love of beer and fun. Around the world, although mostly throughout the rest of Germany and the United States, other brewers offer seasonal beers modeled after the traditional German Märzen. These smooth, malty beers are among the things I most look forward to in autumn. And although Oktoberfest proper has ended, modern refrigeration and filtration mean that I can enjoy the taste of Oktoberfest for months to come. After a long day at work, there really is nothing better than a good beer.

In the words of the Preacher in Ecclesiastes, “every man should eat and drink, and enjoy the good of all his labour.” What lies beyond is not knowable to us. What we do know is that ” all are of the dust, and all turn to dust again.” We cannot be certain of what happens outside of this life, so we are obliged to live it completely. Sometimes laboring, sometimes enjoying the fruits of labor. Sometimes weeping, sometimes laughing. Sometimes loving, sometimes hating. But always living life fully.

Beer of the Week: Paulaner Oktoberfest Bier – Expecting a dark, malty Märzen, I was surprised by what poured out of this bottle. Paulaner’s Oktoberfest Bier is a light gold color with a slightly sticky white head. The taste is malty but not as bready as I had expected. It has a smooth feel and finishes with a little flavor of hops and of alcohol (it is 6%.) It really strikes me more as a Munich Helles Lager in the style of Löwenbräu than any Oktoberfest-style beer I’ve ever had. It is delicious, but not what I was hoping for.

Reading of the week: The Book of Ecclesiastes, or The Preacher, Chapter 3 – Best known to many as the lyrics of the song “Turn! Turn! Turn!”, Chapter 3 of Ecclesiastes is rather better when not put to music. It is a very interesting passage which may indicate that earthly life should be the real focus of humanity because man cannot know what comes after this life: “who shall bring him to see what shall be after him?”

Question of the week: Familiarity breeds contempt. If Oktoberfest-style beers were not seasonal, would they be less popular?