We have plenty to be thankful for, more than our ancestors ever did. We should be thankful for our incredibly safe and cushy lives compared to ninety per cent of the other people on the planet – thankful we’re not in Iraq or Afghanistan, or Somalia, or just about anywhere really. We don’t know who exactly to thank for all this good luck. So, at Thanksgiving, we express our appreciation in a general way, rather like sending out Spam on the Internet, in the hope that some of it reaches the right destination.

It’s a pity that Thanksgiving is such hard work. First, there’s the nightmare of travel – at least thirty million Americans will be on the highways this week, and about five million will pack into the airports to fly towards their families.

Then there’s the anxiety of COVID, and the even greater anxiety of getting together with remote and complicated families, who may be almost like strangers. It’s no longer a simple case of “Over the River and Through the Woods to Grandmother’s House we Go.” The fashion for multiple marriages often means that we have a large choice of grandmothers and mothers to visit at this time of year. Sometimes there’s even a choice of fathers, assuming that they left a forwarding address. It’s not Norman Rockwell’s picture anymore.

But the really challenging thing about Thanksgiving is the food. Not only does the traditional menu contradict every known principle of diet and health, but also there is the inescapable fact that somebody must cook it, and almost nobody remembers how to cook anymore.

The baby boom moms are getting too old to do Thanksgiving these days, but their sons and daughters are not much better qualified. Their lives are too busy for cooking. They never got into the habit eating of home-cooked family meals around the table. The fast-food industry was created by them and for them. The papers fill up with neat recipes for delightful little Thanksgiving extras like roasted cauliflower, raisins, and anchovy vinaigrette or spiced sweet potato pudding. The New York Times offered a food preparation timetable that ran for five full days. Who has time for this? The harassed modern mom can only spare an hour or two away from her corporate desk to buy a packet or vitamin-enriched turkey-flavored artificial food product and zap it in the microwave, while talking to the Tokyo office on her cellular phone. The prospect of cooking a multi-course meal with six vegetables and dessert for a whole house full of people is her worst nightmare. It’s like trying to pilot a Boeing 777 when your only flying training has been with a kite.

Millions of single people head for Miami or Marrakech to avoid the danger of food poisoning, and the family slide show. More families each year spend the holiday in hotels, or have Thanksgiving catered. Our local deli will deliver the whole gastronomic tsunami to your home for a very modest price. Health insurance is not included.

It’s probably best this way. The old kitchen skills have faded, but also the old kitchen slavery. I remember my mother-in-law working incredibly hard to cook a huge dinner for fifteen at Thanksgiving, which may be easy for a trained restaurant chef in a professional kitchen, but not for an average domestic cook in a kitchen the size of a closet. Progress and the catering industry have liberated us from all that. We can enjoy the sociable part of the holiday, and not worry about the food. That’s yet another thing to be thankful for.