Chris Wilkins, COO
I love food. So much so that I’ve dedicated my career to it. Yet, I have a confession to make. For me, the biggest foodie holiday of them all, Thanksgiving, really isn’t about food at all. Sure, I have my Thanksgiving favorites, as I’m sure you do. However, when I think about what I really love most about corn pudding or sweet potato casserole, it’s how the smell and taste of these favorites brings back memories of family and friends as traditions are shared and new ones made.
Among the things so special to me about Thanksgiving is that it is really a mosaic; the setting aside of a day to celebrate the sharing of a meal with those we care about while creating timeless memories. The people around the table reflect this, and the food reflects each of them. That’s part of what makes these memories so strong and helps to create new traditions while focusing around the uniquely human community of a meal. For me, one of the images of this mosaic was from my early career in Minneapolis.
In Minneapolis, most of us were from somewhere else and rather than travel, we chose to have Thanksgiving together. We each brought a dish from our own tradition or created a new one. Not a Thanksgiving passes that I don’t think about a friend from those times who, although he never baked before, was tasked with dessert and became “the pie guy.” These are the kinds of things that become part of your mosaic. In fact, the “pie guy” is still referenced at the Wilkins’ table today.
Given my role at Benson Hill and my previous experience at Consumer Packaged Goods companies, I often think of my favorite meals. They tend to lean more to my favorite traditions, the memories, and the togetherness, and I am thankful to have those memories. At the same time, the seats around the table change, and with that new traditions are put forth and new memories made through sharing food experiences. My daughters are flexitarians, and my wife is gluten-free. I’m looking forward to how this will lead to reimagining the classics and creating new ones that will influence the Wilkins’ table this year. New options, some healthier, will co-exist alongside tried and true traditional dishes, but all share one thing in common – the joy of food and its power to connect us, bring us together in the moment and transport us across time.
This year, due to COVID, our table will be smaller with just the five of us. That will be the case for countless tables across the country. There is a bright spot in the Wilkins’ household. We’ve spent more time together – much of that enjoying more family meals and preparation.
I think all of the changes we are experiencing in our food system, from transparency and traceability to localization, are reconnecting us with farmers and the agricultural community. In a way that, while contemporary and technology-enabled, is reminiscent of earlier days in agriculture when consumers and growers knew one another in such a close way. That connection is key – not just connecting with our food but with the people who work so hard to produce it. A heightened awareness and understanding of where our food comes from helps bridge our connection as people while broadening it from plant to plate.
Agriculture has benefited so greatly from advances in technology in its ability to scale and feed our growing population. There is work to be done to take this to the next level with greater crop diversity, nutrition and sustainable practices. Yet, across all of this, the one thing that remains unchanged is that it is a farmer working to put food on his or her family’s table, on all our tables, that makes it all possible. That connection from their table to ours.
As a former member of the board for the St. Louis Area Foodbank I often think about the 50 million Americans who are food insecure, in particular, the 17 million children according to a recent report from Feed America. There are many ways we can all get involved to help reverse these staggering statistics. Local food banks have virtual giving resource opportunities and often companies will match donations. Giving in this way can magnify your donations exponentially to help people by making your dollars go further, helping far beyond what you could do alone. If you are in St. Louis, visit www.stlfoodbank.org.
Food brings us together. It has the power to create new traditions. It is central to who we are and to the connections, we will always share. For that, I am both grateful and joyful. No matter how you celebrate or with whom, whether you are in a position to give back or are in need, know that there are people who are thankful for you. From the Wilkins’ family to yours, Happy Thanksgiving.