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Saturday, December 3, 2016

Is Macaroni and Cheese on Thanksgiving a Black thing?

In the divisive year of 2016, macaroni and cheese has thrown her hat in the ring to contend for issue-that-threatens-to-tear-America-apart-for-good. Apparently some people don’t eat macaroni and cheese on Thanksgiving. I took a poll at my Thanksgiving dinner this year and found that three of the four Americans that I had mistakenly invited into my home didn’t eat macaroni on Thanksgiving. I was shocked. My entire perception of America was turned upside down.

The idea that some people don’t eat macaroni and cheese on Thanksgiving was brought to my attention via an ESPN podcast on the eve of Turkey Day. Host Brian Custer argued with ESPN veteran Trey Wingo about the merits of macaroni and cheese in November. Wingo loves mac ‘n’ cheese (as it will be henceforth referred to), but he insisted that it is not a Thanksgiving dish because it can be eaten year-round. Donovan McNabb, Custer’s co-host, sagely pointed out that Thanksgiving mac ‘n’ cheese isn’t your everyday run-of-the-mill mac ‘n’ cheese. The holiday version contains up to five types of cheeses; it’s literally a cheese orgy in your mouth and who wouldn’t want a cheese orgy in their mouth on a holiday?

But like so many issues in contemporary America, this issue isn’t as simple as people’s preferences for noodles and fromage. This is yet another American culture war. More specifically, I wondered if holiday mac ‘n’ cheese might be yet another example of how America is split along racial lines. On the above mentioned podcast all of the Black people supported the “eating mac ‘n’ cheese on Thanksgiving” platform while Wingo, the lone White guest, was anti-mac. Coincidence? At my Thanksgiving dinner the four Americans I polled were White; three of them didn’t traditionally eat mac ‘n’ cheese for Thanksgiving. The other one is an outlier; he’s from the Bay Area where people do all kinds of weird stuff.

Unfortunately I don’t have the capability to conduct a nationwide poll (and we’re not trusting polls anymore…right?). Borrowing an idea from the good ‘ol US of A, I created an electoral college of mac ‘n’ cheese. For this hallowed duty only the most qualified candidates were considered. Obviously I’m talking about those brave souls who help define the American kitchen, celebrity chefs. How many of these patriots feature mac ‘n’ cheese on their holiday menus? Will their preferences prove that mac ‘n’ cheese on Thanksgiving is a Black thing?

The “research”

Our first suspected anti-mac voter is the Beyonce of homemaking: Martha Stewart. She isn’t a chef, but I’m sure more than a few people relied on Ms. Stewart to plan their Thanksgiving. There are 22 Thanksgiving menus on her website and not one of them makes reference to the beloved mac ‘n’ cheese. She does have parsnips though, so there’s that.

Paula Deen (BOO) omitted mac ‘n’ cheese from her menu. Based on her past, that only strengthens our thesis.

Bobby Flay didn’t have mac ‘n’ cheese for Thanksgiving. Neither did Geoffrey Zakarian nor the cast of The Kitchen. In 2012 The Pioneer Woman left mac ‘n’ cheese off of her favorite Thanksgiving side dishes post. Guy Fieri, Trisha Yearwood, Valerie Bertinelli, and Nancy Fuller didn’t feature the dish on their Thanksgiving-themed Food Network TV shows. Our thesis is starting to look like a lock.

But let’s just pump the brakes for a second. We have two White chefs, Alton Brown and Ina Garten, who both included mac ‘n’ cheese on their holiday menus. So that’s 9 White chefs who don’t support mac ‘n’ cheese and two that do. Shall we mail off Black cards for Alton and Ina today?

Before we jump to any conclusions, let’s see what’s happening in the world of Black chef-dom. Chef G. Gavin didn’t provide a Thanksgiving menu, but you can search for Thanksgiving dishes on his website. Does he have mac ‘n’ cheese tagged as a Thanksgiving dish? Yes, yes he does. So does Carla Hall. Marcus Samuelson and The Neelys, however, did not feature it as a Thanksgiving recipe; like the White chefs on the Food Network The Neelys might have had mac ‘n’ cheese, but it didn’t earn a featured recipe. That’s two Black chefs who had it and two who didn’t have it. That brings the total count to 11-4, with the anti-macs taking it. It appears that both of our theses have been proven wrong: mac ‘n’ cheese is not a Thanksgiving staple nor is it a universal Thanksgiving selection among Black people.

Wait. WAIT! There is one authority we haven’t consulted:

Damn. Pastor Shirley didn’t name it, but she did make allowance for it: she says “You name it!” inviting us to name any dish, including mac ‘n’ cheese, and she will have it. That is, however, a very slippery slope. To accept that as proof would establish a dangerous precedent.

Speaking of dangerous precedents, our very last recourse is to turn to the highest office in the land which is still occupied by President Obama for the time being. President Obama had mac ‘n’ cheese as part of the first family’s Thanksgiving dinner. His successor’s Thanksgiving menu featured 24 dishes; not one of them was mac ‘n’ cheese. A sad day for America.


So where does that leave us? Black chef-dom was split, minus a Pastor Shirley, add a President Obama…it seems like Thanksgiving mac ‘n’ cheese is only partially a Black thing. It appears the great macaroni divide isn’t racial. It doesn’t appear to be regional. Some people do it and some don’t and that’s nothing new. For those who would shout down us mac ‘n’ cheesers as Johnny-come-latelys, there is evidence of a mac ‘n’ cheese dish (like a hybrid between mac ‘n’ cheese and lasagna) being served for Thanksgiving as far back as 1883; but not on every table.

It appears that Thanksgiving, like so many things in American life, is yet another microcosm for our country’s diversity. And while people may disagree about macaroni’s place on the Thanksgiving table, a serious argument is unlikely to arise over a side dish. If only Americans could always be that level-headed. Then we would have something for which to be truly thankful.

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