Aleteia

“Philosophy-to-Go!”: Meditation on a Green Bean Casserole

Peter Szabo
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Don’t think I can pull a pensée out of a bowl of green bean casserole? Well, grab a knife and fork and come watch me…

Philosophy-To-Go! brings you straight-from-the-oven philosophical hors d’oeuvres inspired by the ambient culture. To accompany them, we recommend a chilled Albariño.

It was always there. It had its permanent place on the board on which my mother set out our Thanksgiving buffet. 

I admit, at the time I did not rank the green bean casserole as high in the catalogue of toothsome offerings as the stuffing. But I was young and impressionable, and the garish spices involved with the stuffing, along with the instant gratification of the carbohydrates, exercised an undue fascination upon my callow taste buds. Now I have grown older, and perhaps a little wiser, and the subtler, more intellectual attractions of green bean casserole are more congenial to my palate. 

What is it about green bean casserole that is so wondrous? Breaking it down into its component parts, it does not seem like anything special. Green beans. A can of Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom soup. French fried onions. Never has the axiom that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts been more adequately proved. These three ingredients are indeed rather pedestrian when taken singly. But put them together and, like mixing Moe with Larry and Curly, you’ve got a magical combination. 

For me, that magic consists not only in green bean casserole’s ambrosial flavor. It consists, too, in the way in which it takes me back to the Thanksgiving dinners of my childhood. To smell the familiar bouquet of a steaming green bean casserole is to be sitting in the living room of my parents‘ house on Portage Avenue in South Bend, Indiana. First at the card table that served as the “kids table,” then later at the “big table” with the grown-ups, it was in that living room that I enjoyed my annual Thanksgiving reunions with my family and our close friends. Green bean casserole is, for me, a portal back through time. It is a connection to the past.

Our word “tradition” comes from the Latin verb tradere, which means “to hand over.” A tradition is thus something “handed over” from one generation to the next. Green bean casserole is one of the things my mother handed over to me as an element of family celebration. This is what culture is. It is a kind of proclamation in deeds that says, “This is how we do things here.”  And so my own family’s Thanksgiving dinners now include, as a mandatory and much anticipated element, green bean casserole. 

Of course, my parents handed over far more substantial customs to me and my family than green bean casserole. But the out-sized importance that green bean casserole takes on each Thanksgiving Day is a reminder, not just of days long past, but of the ways in which a family’s culture is embodied–and must be embodied–in rather pedestrian items, items which assume an almost magical dimension the more we associate them with the love of those who gave them. 

Both my parents have now gone to God, and our celebrations on Portage Avenue are no more. But the tradition that my parents passed on remains very much alive, and it is in the hope of its power that I look forward to the day when we can rejoin them at the table of the Everlasting Banquet.

From all of us at Aleteia to our friends in the United States, a safe and happy Thanksgiving to you all.    

Daniel McInerny is the English language editor of Aleteia. You are invited to contact him at daniel.mcinerny@aleteia.org, and to follow him on Twitter @danielmcinerny

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