Most of us are creatures of habits in many ways, and the Dicksons surely are when it comes to Thanksgiving.
Every Thanksgiving of my childhood was spent around my grandparents’ damask-covered dining room table in Kinston, with a small table on the side for the younger grandchildren. I took pride in being the oldest grandchild and the first to sit at the “big table” and felt quite smug when a littler one once shouted to his mother across the room at the other side of the big table to inquire why our grandmother had a “sheet on the table.” I understand the boy had an etiquette lesson when he got back to Fayetteville.
    The tradition with my grandparents ended, of course, and for as long as I can remember, our little Dickson clan has made a day trip to Chapel Hill to be with cousins who lived there. The group has changed over the years as more children arrived, grew up and had babies of their own. It also almost always includes folks outside our family who, for one reason or another, find themselves at our Thanksgiving table.
    {mosimage}Over the years, we have been joined by friends and friends of friends, some of whom have come from other nations and who do not have a tradition of national Thanksgiving. These have included several of my mother’s Austrian relatives, an in-law’s Belgian relatives, and once an entire family from Nigeria whose connection I never did learn. One of my sons calls our tradition “Thanksgiving with the United Nations.” This year we were joined by a young woman named Charity who arrived with the girlfriend of a cousin.             
    The food is always spectacular. My Chapel Hill cousin and her Belgian husband always do the turkey and his wonderful dressing with walnuts, mashed potatoes and other people fill in the rest. This year that included several hors d’oeuvres, turnip greens cooked the old-fashioned Southern way, asparagus topped with hard-boiled eggs, sweet potato casserole, lima beans, brandied peaches and watermelon rind pickles, cornbread and roasted vegetable casserole, yeast rolls, apple and honey pie, coconut cream pie, Kentucky horse race pie and an ice cream turkey.
    There were only a few leftovers.
    As I enjoyed my favorites among the people I love, I was also aware of my many blessings and those of millions of other Americans who were also celebrating Thanksgiving with their loved ones.    
Not the least of those blessings is that I live in a family with several vehicles, which allows me to go to whatever grocery store I choose to buy food that is generally healthy for me and my family, including lean meats and other proteins and fresh fruits and vegetables. This access is an important component of good health, and it is access not everyone has.
    It takes a bit of thinking to realize what an obstacle a lack of transportation is to good health. Clearly, all of us need transportation to get to health care providers, but we also need transportation to get to healthy food, such as the fresh produce available in supermarkets, farmers’ markets and other outlets. People without such access often have few choices beyond the myriad of fast food vendors which now dot our national landscape.
    These establishments are convenient, usually clean, and, if one chooses carefully, relatively inexpensive. They are also nutritionally negative, offering food that is high in calories and low in nutritional value. A limp slice of tomato plopped on a greasy cheeseburger slathered in mayonnaise on bleached white bread is no substitute for a green salad with various other vegetables, and French fries are not even close to the nutritional value of, say, a baked sweet potato. Easy access to such empty-calorie laden foods and lack of access to nutritionally-rich foods is among the complex reasons why so many American children, nearly 1/3 of those between 6 and 11 years old, are now obese and why the American Academy of Pediatrics is now recommending cholesterol-testing for some children as young as 2-years-old.
    There are many and complicated reasons, of course, why the present generation of American children may be the first in history to be less healthy than their parents and to have a lower life expectancy, but nutrition is clearly in the mix. As we consider this problem, we must think not only about what people should be eating but also about how they are going to get it. If there are few stores selling high quality food in some neighborhoods, how are people going to get such food? And, why is it that poor-quality prepared foods are so much less expensive than nutritionally high quality foods, even if they come from the local area?
    Those of us blessed to visit bountiful Thanksgiving tables may see food access as someone else’s problem, but good health affects all of us because we all pay for other people’s poor health in one way or another.
Think about it as we move into the season of even more bounty.
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