Ashli Stokes, University of North Carolina Charlotte – Thanksgiving Food and Gratitude

Food is the main event of most Thanksgivings.

Ashli Stokes, associate professor in the department of communication studies at the University of North Carolina Charlotte, discusses the importance of preparing something tasty for your family to enjoy this holiday.

Dr. Ashli Quesinberry Stokes is an Associate Professor of Communication Studies and the Director of the Center for the Study of the New South at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. Dr. Stokes teaches a variety of public relations courses at the undergraduate and graduate level and directs the Department’s Honors Program. Her courses include principles of public relations, public relations strategy & campaigns, issues management, and health communication campaigns. Her award-winning research specializes in using rhetorical approaches to analyze public relations and public communication controversies, often concerning activism and corporate advocacy. Along with co-authoring Consuming Identity: The Role of Food in Redefining the South (with Wendy Atkins-Sayre) and Global Public Relations: Spanning Borders, Spanning Cultures(with Alan R. Freitag) Stokes has published in the Journal of Public Relations Research, Journal of Communication Management, Public Relations Review, the Southern Communication Journal, Studies in Communication Sciences, and theEncyclopedia of Public Relations, among others. Upon the completion of her master’s degree at Wake Forest University, she worked in public relations. Stokes then returned to academia and completed her doctorate at the University of Georgia in 2004.

Thanksgiving Food and Gratitude

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If you have been asked to make a specific dish for Thanksgiving, be honored, not bothered. Research suggests that making your famous green bean casserole might help you to critically reflect on your culture and traditions while remaining grateful for them. While food means nutrition, we also build family, community, and cultural memories around it. Food acts rhetorically, with what we choose to eat and serve sending distinct messages.

The phrase “you are what you eat” may be cliché, yet there is truth in saying that food crafts part of who we are. When we watch a family member make the dressing (or stuffing, depending on where you are from), we are watching a ritual. The cook reenacts cultural practices that shape how we see others and ourselves and whether we identify with certain roles. Thanksgiving meals connect one generation to the next, bringing us together around a shared experience. We learn about who we are and who our families are, even through arguments about whether to cook the dressing in the turkey.

Food stories can open up dialogue. At regional restaurants, people of varied race, ethnicity, and class come together to experience a culture through its food. Even if they don’t know initially that they are connected, they are. In the American South, for example, corn that is ground into cornmeal for cornbread also forms the basis of tortillas for Mexican restaurants that increasingly dot Southern towns. Food emphasizes these common backgrounds, even if people feel they share nothing else. So eat your turkey or just the green beans if you are vegetarian. Talk about how the meal is made, who cooked what, and what it means to you. Your family members and friends gathered around the table might find that despite all your differences, you feel a shared sense of gratitude.

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