The Bird and Beyond: 11 Perfect Podcasts for Thanksgiving
If only navigating the Thanksgiving holiday were as easy as smashing a potato.
Whether you spend the feast with family or friends or all alone, the day can be packed with friction and faux pas. So before taking a seat at the holiday table, take a load off with these thematically fitting podcasts that may help improve your day, or at least give you a conversation starter.
The eats: Where did all this food come from?
‘The Splendid Table’: ‘The Sioux Chef,’ 2017 (:49)
Francis Lam, the host of “The Splendid Table,” talks with Sean Sherman, author of “The Sioux Chef’s Indigenous Kitchen.” Mr. Sherman, who grew up on the Pine Ridge Reservation, home of the Oglala Lakota, in South Dakota, talks about his journey to discover the food of his heritage.
Mr. Lam speaks about tasting cedar tea and pinon nuts that seemed candied right out of the shell. They “tasted totally new, but these food are not new,” he said. “They are just part of a tradition of Native American food that’s been hidden from sight.”
Other topics in this installment include mushrooms, butter and a flavor that’s overtaken the season: pumpkin spice.
‘Gastropod’: ‘Crantastic: The Story of America’s Berry,’ 2017 (:42)
Berries were big at the first Thanksgiving, cranberries included, but not in the way we know them today: as a sweet sauce. Gastropod’s hosts, Cynthia Graber and Nicola Twilley, delve deep into the bog, and you’ll come away knowing all the cranberry trivia needed to change the subject at your holiday table.
Questions tackled include: Why do we only eat cranberry sauce on Thanksgiving? And when did that juice find its soul mate in vodka?
‘Gravy’: ‘Jell-O Makes the Modern (Mountain) Woman,’ 2016 (:21)
Jell-O has long held a place on America’s celebratory table, even if its presence these days is more the result of rote nostalgia than any extreme desire to eat it.
But to the families of rural Appalachia in the 1930s, Jell-O was a revolution, one only made possible by the New Deal’s Rural Electrification Administration. Many homes had started the decade without electricity, but soon they had refrigerators and electric stoves, revolutionizing food preparation and storage. “Gravy” pieced together oral histories from women who grew up during this time, many of whom recalled the “fancy-Jell-O salad” that would grace a table on special occasions.
Before the birds are seasoned, stuffed, basted and garnished, they were gobbling, clucking and, in some cases, wreaking havoc. Enter “Poultry Slam.”
A long-running annual tradition at “This American Life,” the episodes examine “what happens when humans and fowl collide,” says the host Ira Glass. The results will entertain you, tug on your heartstrings — and horrify you.
The 2011 edition is already a classic. Act 2 tells tales of wild turkeys attacking people, including one that unleashed a reign of terror on Martha’s Vineyard.
Another memorable episode may be 20 years old, but its message is timeless. “If you spend enough time around chickens,” Mr. Glass says in Act 2, about a man who grew up on a Virginia farm where his family decapitated chickens, “the boundary between the human world and the chicken world will get blurred.”
Etiquette: How not to offend your host.
‘Shmanners’: ‘Thanksgiving,’ 2016 (:55)
Most people belly up to holiday meals with two primary missions: eat and enjoy. But in order to do that, you must relax, and to relax, you may feel the need to make sure you’re not making a fool of yourself, especially if you’ll be joining people you don’t know that well. The husband and wife duo Travis and Teresa McElroy, who host “Shmanners,” want to help.
In this 2016 episode, they answer questions about the meal, like what to bring (and what you can take home). One interesting tip: Don’t bring wine — the hosts may have other drinks to serve — or fresh flowers, which may compete with the aromas of the meal. Instead, try a bottle of olive oil or a box of chocolates.
Arlo Guthrie: ‘Alice’s Restaurant,’ 1967 (:18)
O.K., it’s not a technically a podcast, but it’s a “pre-podcast podcast,” as Sam Sifton, the New York Times food editor, put it.
The recording “deals with Thanksgiving food, etiquette and advice for how to deal with people all in one 18-minute track that I suppose you could call an episode,” Mr. Sifton said. “All the children of hippies listen to it every Thanksgiving, and it gets stranger by the year.”
Family drama: You can survive this.
‘Hidden Brain’: ‘Thanksgiving,’ 2015 (:20)
The host Shankar Vedantam provides “tips to help you avoid three deadly Thanksgiving pitfalls: overeating, over-shopping, and fighting with your relatives.” On the menu: How to find political common ground. (Even though this aired a year before the 2016 election, the advice endures.)
‘Dear Sugars’: ‘Sugar for the Holidays,’ 2016 (:50)
The hosts Cheryl Strayed and Steve Almond address questions about the unique dread that surfaces during these months — specifically fraught in-law relationships, forgiveness and a family that was torn apart by a revelation.
Honorable mention: The “Shmanners” episode above provides several concrete bits of advice on how to steer the conversation away from explosive topics to maintain a more peaceful vibe. For one: Prepare a carefully curated playlist.
Gratitude: It’s about being thankful, right?
‘Waking Up’: ‘Being Good and Doing Good, a Conversation With William MacAskill,’ 2016 (2:10)
Mr. MacAskill, an associate professor in philosophy at Oxford University, helped create the “effective altruism” movement, using evidence and reason to offer others the most possible help through time and money. In this episode, the host Sam Harris and Mr. MacAskill discuss radical altruism, moral illusions and existential risk, and you may come away wanting to live more generously.
‘On Being’: ‘Atul Gawande — What Matters in the End,’ 2017 (:52)
This episode is for those interested in some perspective on happiness. The host Krista Tippett speaks with Dr. Gawande, a surgeon, writer and public health researcher, about fulfillment as we get older, well-being, wisdom, what death has to do with life, and what a good day really looks like.
Maya Salam, The New York Times