Feedback from Haiti: Thanksgiving Reflections on Feast and Famine


In the spirit of near calamity, I’ve shared all week the misadventures we had trying to prepare Thanksgiving dinner from Haiti.  It’s true—an oven without a thermostat and a struggle to buy broth came close to derailing our effort.  However, things turned around in the end.  A supper was served,

Though prepared in a kitchen nowhere near adequate, pies were baked, a turkey was roasted—the sit-down dinner for 24 proved to be a huge success.

The pumpkin pies--

I hope you can enjoy the photos below (evidence of how last year’s dinner in Haiti all turned out) and consider my Thanksgiving reflection at the end, as well.

Yet this lovely meal also bothered me in a way, ate at me, so to speak, as last Thanksgiving I also pondered the moral implications of hosting a feast for folks with plenty to eat in a country where children went hungry that same day, were sent to bed that night with not a drop of dinner and woke in the morning with no real breakfast to speak of.

Frankly, I have yet to resolve this—the fact that famine and feasting both exist in the same world at the same time, sometimes within mere meters of one another.

I don’t know that it’s necessary for Americans to step away from their own plates this Thanksgiving, but it is important that we step up to the plate in other ways to make a difference.

I come from a country with an obesity epidemic but lived last year in one plagued with either not enough food or a population too poor to feed itself. This was and is a painful irony to swallow.

So, even as you enjoy your Thanksgiving dinner tonight, I hope you will remember our neighbors to the south who are hungry and malnourished.  And tomorrow, as you drink your coffee, eat your Raisin Bran and toast, ask yourself—does morning in America mean breakfast for Haiti?

Happy Thanksgiving to my American friends and to everyone else–Happy Thursday.  I’m grateful to have you as one of my amazing readers!

I’d appreciate your feedback.

40 thoughts on “Feedback from Haiti: Thanksgiving Reflections on Feast and Famine

  1. I say well done! To make a feast like that under such difficult conditions is exceptional.
    With regards to feasting while others starve – I think it is something that plays on many of our consciences. It’s one of the reasons I have chosen to live a simple, frugal life – so as not to consume too much and leave more for others. That, in itself, is still not enough though. Luckily (poor word) I live in close proximity to many poor and undernourished people so it is much easier for me to help them than it is for those who live in the middle of affluent countries. We do all need to do our bit. Just like you and Sara did in Haiti. Giving and helping people with less than ourselves is one of the most humbling, rewarding and soul-building things we can ever do.

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    • What a lovely comment, Jackie. I can say it no better than you have here. You are so correct that giving to those in need is humbling and soul-building. I love that you have that kind of value system, my friend–something we have in common. Happy American Thanksgiving to you————

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  2. I was lucky to have been born of excellent parents in a country that offers opportunities for everyone. All we can do is help where we can. We sponsor a little girl in India and Africa. It is not much, but if more people did it more families could be helped. I’m sure if people were more aware how they could help they would do so. You dinner in Haiti looked wonderful. I hope you were able to set it without too much guilt.

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  3. Kathy, maybe I read your title without reading your title, but as I started reading my first thought was, how did that feel in Haiti, given the context? I’m so happy that was your topic of choice. The blessing in hosting a feast in Haiti is in part, I would think, that you can never forget that irony and that you’ve shared it with others. It’s a pretty visceral thing, something that I’m fairly sure I’ll be more conscious of every time I sit down to feast.

    I struggle to raise this with others as I am labelled buzz-killer and attention shifts from the disparity to me. You’ve done it so well here. But you have more street cred than I do.

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    • Gosh, you are so right, Rose. It’s hard to do this without coming off like you are ruining everyone’s fun. I worried about that here. I finished the post and thought–God, that’s pretty heavy-handed. No one’s going to want to hear that. It’s hard to balance all of that.

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  4. Kathy,

    Thanksgiving is my all-time favorite holiday. I love every dish and spend a week in advance cooking and baking. I have often thought of whether or not I’d be able (physically as well as emotionally) to do it in Haiti. I’m thankful for so many things this year and added to my list is you, your blog, and specifically this post. It brought tears to my eyes.

    I wish you and Sara a most wonderful Thanksgiving, and hope you both know in your hearts that you did and do more for Haiti than most, perhaps more than you will ever know. Thank you so much for putting words (and beautifully crafted words at that!) to such poignant experiences.

    Dana

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    • Oh, Dana, thank you for this comment. It’s great to hear from you on this holiday. I’m pleased that this post touched you, and am comforted in knowing how much you do for Haiti. I’m so thankful to know you through this blog, and hope that someday we can meet in person–hopefully in Haiti! Happy Thanksgiving, my friend!

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  5. Wonderful post, Kathy. I can’t believe it’s been a year (and a little more) since I first started following your blog. I remember your Thanksgiving challenges well.

    Happy Thanksgiving, my friend. *Hugs*

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  6. Food is a very big part of any kind of celebration here, and we celebrate with gusto, despite all the reminders that we are surrounded by people living below the poverty line.
    It is a strange and bizarre thing to be aware of how many hungry people there are, yet keep up traditions that involve feasting.
    I guess it is appropriate to be thankful to have the means to feast… most people work hard for what they have. Most people also do whatever they can to help those less fortunate…..God, after all, is ‘supposed’ to look after everyone…

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    • Oh, I wish I could say the same were true here. I think most folks in the US don’t do what they can. I’d love to be wrong about that. Maybe I just don’t know the right people. But I think most American’s just haven’t really been exposed to extreme poverty. They live in a bubble. Sad to say. But I think you are right. None of this should let this keep us from feasting.

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  7. Since the significance of the Thanksgiving feast is to give thanks for our abundance, it seems appropriate to continue the practice even as others are going hungry in the world. There will never be a time when the whole world has all that they need. There will always be someone going without. The key, I think, is to never forget to keep sharing our abundance and to keep working for change.

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    • Yes, I agree. At the same time, it felt so stange to be celebrating Thanksgiving in a country where we were simply surrounded by such poverty. I just felt weird. I don’t know that it was wrong, but it didn’t feel quite right either.

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  8. Glad your feast turned out so well! It’s tough knowing that others are going hungry when you are not…but I guess you should count your blessings that you are not among the hungry, rather than letting those thoughts eat you up inside.

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  9. Harry Chapin would be proud of you. He gave away most of his money to put a stop to world hunger. He was one of the few celebrities to walk the walk, by travelling in his own car to gigs to cut expenses so he’d have more to give. Many of his shows were completely for charity. Imagine if we all had a little bit of Harry, and little bit of you and Sara, the differences that could be made in the lives of the hungry. I don’t find your post too heavy handed at all. I think you had a point to make and you made it well. In a perfect world, we wouldn’t need to even think about this topic; but thankfully folks like you give some of us perspective via your words. For that, I am truly thankful.

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  10. Your post really got me thinking, Kathy. It’s easy to think that the world’s problems are too big and so why bother. But we should always ask ourselves: What can I do to help? I really believe each one of us has the power to make a difference.

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  11. Thanksgiving launches what I consider the most overwhelming time of the year, the Christmas season with its insane message of consumerism that it’s imperative to start shopping with a herd of lunatics at midnight on Black Friday. If that isn’t enough to give one indigestion … It is also a time of year where I’m overwhelmed with reminders about the overabundance and over-consumption here in the US while so many others in countries like Haiti and elsewhere suffer. Even though I’m lucky to be employed during this recession, when the economy tanked my modest salary was slashed 20%. I was recently informed that I will still not see a dime of those wages I lost almost three years ago reinstated in 2012. Meanwhile, my weekly contribution to keep my employer-sponsored health insurance continues to skyrocket. I work with people that can no longer afford to keep their health insurance. They were once middle class and today, they’re the working poor. That alone is enough to make one sick. If I were made of money and I had the power to create global utopia, eliminate corporate greed and government corruption and ensure that everyone is happy, safe, housed and well-fed with every new gadget people seem to want in the 21st century to reach that state of bliss, I would make it happen, but I can’t. It’s not a fair or equal world.

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    • Believe me. I know how you feel, as neither Sara nor I have jobs at the moment. Sara doesn’t even qualify for unemployment, since she worked outside the US for an NGO. Things are bad for lots of people. At the same time, I can’t help feeling weird about how it all felt in Haiti last year. Living in a city where 1.5 million were homeless changed me somehow. I didn’t mean to be too heavy-handed in this post. I just don’t want to forget the face of what I saw there, now that I am home in the US were things are so much better for so many–compartively speaking, of course. It’s all a matter of degree. There’s unfair and unequal and then there’s UNFAIR and UNEQUAL–if that makes sense.

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  12. Kathy, thank you for this very thoughtful and important post. I don’t know how to reconcile a world where so many are hungry while others feast in excess, either. I am going on a trip to Central America later in January–to a fancy resort for a nephew’s wedding–and am trying to reconcile this, as well. Perhaps we just have to make our hearts big enough to hold the polarities, and to give as well as receive.

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    • Thanks for reading, Dana. It certainly does raise some uncomfortable issues, doesn’t it? I hate that there are still hungry people in the world!

      Hope you are settling into your new cabin with weekend–staying warm and cozy!

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  13. What a beautiful, reflective post … so funny in your adamant pursuit of the real traditions (celery, pumpkin, chicken stock etc…) and then so touching in the aching juxtaposition of feasting amidst the routine, chronic famine so many Haitians endure. Very sensitive, beautiful post — and one I can totally relate to (although I never saw a store in PAP like that Giant — wowsa!!)

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    • Giant was built after the earthquake–opened, perhaps, 6-8 months afterward. It comes close to making you think you’re at home in the US–though there’s less selection. I’m so happy to hear you appreciated this post. Thanks so much for reading, Betty.

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