Thanksgiving is almost here. We are getting ready to cook and to celebrate. Both Appa and I have fond memories of our Thanksgiving dinners ever since we moved to America. His first one was in Chicago in the home of a couple welcoming foreign students from their alma mater. Jean and Dick are our dear friends to this day. My first Thanksgiving dinner happened in the lush Upper East Side apartment of a corporate lawyer I had made friends with through work.
I think Thanksgiving has a special significance for immigrants to this country because it is meant to be celebrated by everyone in America, regardless of their origin, nationality, or religion. It is enough to be here to join in the tradition. Enough to be included in the warmth of togetherness.
But I find it less easy now than before to celebrate without sensing the dissonance between our cozy life and the relentless chaos of this world. Growing older does that to you, I guess: you feel less insulated from the suffering of your fellow humans, even when you are still, in fact, mostly insulated.
Sometimes rejoicing when other people are so patently struggling seems surreal, or even worse. This year I am thinking of the ongoing Covid crisis and of the refugees used as geopolitical pawns in freezing Belarus (a strange country I remember from a few trips long ago). Life goes on, of course, and celebrating with our family and friends is a meaningful part of it, but the balance between joy and awareness is elusive at times…
Then, there is Simply Gourmand. My bread-and-butter and the work I love. As my company’s Gourmand-in-Chief, it is my job to curate the best possible selection of French food and to communicate about it enthusiastically and with variety. That’s not hard to do — a task I enjoy genuinely. Still, raving about French food in our weekly newsletter can feel tone-deaf when the news is particularly grim or gripping. That’s the reason why I decided to pause Simply Gourmand’s newsletter routine and acknowledge the crisis America went through after the killing of George Floyd in the spring of 2020. But that’s not something I can do often, and that’s not my role either. Stark news is never in short supply and it would sound quite formulaic if I were to mention I am aware of this on a regular basis in our newsletter.
French food is about taste, pleasure, and culture. This is essentially what I want to talk about to our customers and would be customers. It is how we engage with them and how we bring them some degree of joy. It is both small and not so small. It is definitely meaningful to this unabashed retailer.
For most specialty food stores, the holiday season is incredibly busy. Simply Gourmand is no exception. For our whole team, it is a time both exhausting (always) and exhilarating (sometimes). I personally love this effervescence, including Black Friday and Cyber Monday. I know these marketing events are supposed to be decried as consumerist tricks but to me they are more like a wave I want to surf once a year. A game I enjoy playing with whoever is up to it — after all, nobody’s forced to take part. And when it comes to tricks, I promise there are none in our special offers!
The holiday season is about to start in America. Let’s be merry but not oblivious. Let’s be thankful for walking this tightrope together. The poet Jacques Prévert once wrote: “Il faudrait essayer d’être heureux, ne serait-ce que pour donner l’exemple.” (One should try to be happy, if only to lead by example.)