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Talking Turkey: Holiday Food

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Food connects us to one another. We break bread together to forge bonds.

Christmas - as with most holidays, in fact - is often very food-centred. For many people, cooking and eating during holidays is fun and exciting (while, of course, for others, it is stressful and upsetting, for a variety of reasons, often to do with raised expectations and/or family).

One of the things I find bizarre about the December holidays and food is that British food magazines act as though Christmas is the only holiday. They print article after article about how to cook this Christmas dish or that Christmas dish, but of course readers might be interested to learn about other food traditions.

According to the 2001 UK census, about 70% of British people identify as Christian, while in 2011, the number had gone down to under 60%. Whether or not all 60% celebrate Christmas and/or eat traditional Christmas food is another question, but regardless of that, what about the other 40% of the British population? Wouldn't they have a stake in seeing their own traditions represented in popular magazines (and yes, of course some celebrate Christmas too, while others celebrate nothing at all)? And anyway, wouldn't some of the Christians be interested in learning about other holidays and concomitant dishes?

For a few years running, I've analysed some November, December, and January food magazines. Without fail, they've nearly all suggested that the UK is solely comprised of people who celebrate Christmas. I wrote to a few of the editors to explain that the UK is actually a culturally and religiously diverse place and to suggest that they feature an occasional Diwali sweet or Hanukkah latke or Yule log, but this has been studiously ignored. One editor defended the mag by saying that they had written about Indian curries in another issue - I didn't bother to point out that everyday food is not necessarily the same as celebration food.

So what I'd suggest is that we recognise how wonderfully diverse the UK is and that we begin to celebrate all our food traditions. Let's talk about the winter holidays instead of acting as though there's only one. Let's wish people "happy holidays" instead of, or in addition to, "happy Christmas". And let's learn to cook Hanukkah sufganiyot, Pancha Ganapati shakkarpare, or Yule wassail, along with the Christmas pudding.

I firmly believe that food brings us closer together. So learning about other people's religious celebrations and the food traditions that go with them, and trying the dishes and maybe even cooking them ourselves, makes us feel that other people are no longer quite so other. What might seem "weird" and "foreign" is actually tasty and perhaps not as different as we had expected.

It's time for food magazines to say that December is about many celebrations, not just Christmas, and to acknowledge that celebrations vary across cultures and religions. Featuring a greater array of festivities and dishes just might be the greatest thing since sliced bread, and it would have the effect of connecting us more tightly to one another.

You can't go wrong with food and friends. It'd be like having your cake and eating it too, and after all, what's the point of cake if you can't eat it?