Thanksgiving will be different this year. I’m sure that’s not news, but it bears thinking about. Take a moment to consider what our circumstances mean for the food supply chain, grocery stores, and restaurants in addition to your tradition.
In the food business, the past is a pretty good guide to the future. It’s not exact, but it’s especially reliable for Thanksgiving, with its menu of turkey and fixins repeated year after year. Yes, there are some changing trends and patterns over time, but they’re not disruptive.
In 2020 the food business was disrupted, turned on its ear by the pandemic. Restaurants closed and then slowly re-opened at reduced capacity. Grocery stores were overwhelmed as eating shifted to home cooking. Like the early days of computers when Windows and OS couldn’t communicate, the floundering restaurant supply chain couldn’t work with the distressed retail food system. Packaging was different, sizes weren’t right, and popular non-retail items couldn’t keep up with increased demand. The system needed a reboot to catch up.
In an interview, the CEO of Whole foods pointed out that bathroom activity shifted from 50% at work to almost 100% at home. You know what happened to toilet paper supplies.
Food industry issues are compounded by the complexities of travel, social distancing, and family safety. There are some questions to be asked. Is it OK to get together for Thanksgiving? Can we sit around the table? Is it advisable to travel “over the river and through the woods to Grandmother’s house” via airports busy with other travelers? Does going to work or school create an unreasonable hazard for less exposed family members? Plans are coming together or falling apart at the last minute, adding even more complication. All this has to be worked out family by family with the guidance of government and health officials.
Once you figure out what the family will do, who will show up, and who can’t or won’t make it, there is the menu to plan.
Turkey growers are betting that groups will be smaller. Anticipating smaller gatherings, plans have been made to downsize the weight of the birds — more small and fewer big turkeys this year. Decisions had to be made back in the spring and summer about the size and quantity of turkeys for Thanksgiving. Last year’s numbers don’t mean much. Growers had to guess.
They are guessing along with store owners and buyers. I heard Stew Leonard say in a WCBS radio interview that his back room was filled with Thanksgiving dinner supplies, and the stores were ready. I’ll bet he had his fingers crossed that the ordering guesses had been right. Kim Severson reported in The New York Times that Stew had cut his large bird order by 20% — a bet that Thanksgiving dinners will be smaller this year.
If a turkey and all the sides are still in the offing for this year, then the question is where to eat.
Albie Yuravich, editor in chief of Connecticut Magazine, wrote about his Thanksgiving plans: “My family’s are starting to come into focus — think a rustic-industrial, open-air garage with heaters and
separate meal servings.” We’ve had some surprisingly balmy weather this November, but the question is can you count on it? I hope Yuravich has a backup plan. Otherwise the likelihood of a blustery November day could give new meaning to the idea of “chilling out” for his family.
We have cautious friends whose usually bustling Thanksgiving dinner is reduced to just three people. They’re eating out. It’s just not worth the effort to put on the expected spread for so few. Washington Prime has an extensive three course Thanksgiving menu ($65) from noon to 5:00. The Tavern at Gray Barns also has a three course menu ($110) noon to 6:00 with heritage turkey as the centerpiece. Harbor Lights seafood-oriented menu also includes roast turkey and baked ham ($68) for a Thanksgiving dinner
overlooking Norwalk harbor. Reservations are essential at any restaurant.
At Norwalk’s Basso Cafe award winning Chef Renato Donzelli will prepare your Thanksgiving dinner for you to pick up. Orders must be in a week in advance. Festivities Catering is another source for a bring-it-home Thanksgiving. Of course, the chefs at Stew Leonards are always happy to supply a festive, traditional and delicious feast.
Yes, Thanksgiving will be different this year, but perhaps all the more memorable because of it. For better or worse, we’ll never forget this year, but let’s be thankful as we make the most of it.
Frank Whitman can be reached at NotBreadAloneFW@gmail.com.