If the results of the 2020 election haven’t soured your grapes, you may want to have a handful of the fruit at the ready come midnight Jan. 1.
Specifically, a dozen of them.
Gulping one at each chime of the clock is a step toward ensuring abundant luck in the coming year, at least that’s the hope in Spain and several other Spanish-speaking countries.
It’s a tradition that maybe hasn’t caught on so much here in the U.S., which has plenty of its own unique food preferences that are meant to improve your fortunes.
In the South, it’s believed that feasting on black-eyed peas and collard greens will yield humility as well as coins and “green” (money), the USDA noted, adding that lentils are another popular legume on holiday grocery shopping lists.
Other cultures favor pickled herring, or noodles to denote a long life, or ring-shaped cakes to represent the next 365 days (except in leap years, when there are 366 days) coming full circle. And yes, 2020 was a leap year, and it did seem extra long, didn’t it?
And, of course, there’s pork and sauerkraut. This tradition began with the Pennsylvania Dutch, who brought it from Germany, and has since been adopted throughout the state and region, according to PAeats, a nonprofit organization that educates and empowers food-insecure residents and highlights the state’s food culture.
What’s the reasoning?
Because pigs root forward, unlike other barnyard animals, thus heralding positivity ahead.
You won’t get any argument from me. Pork and sauerkraut, and a side of mashed potatoes, is about as tasty a way to kick off the year as any. Just the aroma of it as it cooks gets my stomach growling like an ornery bear, and stirs up memories of a long-ago food misadventure.
It’s that time I had the bright idea of transporting hot dogs and sauerkraut to a get-together in a Crock-Pot with the lid unsecured. Having placed it on the passenger-side floor of my Mazda, I somehow forgot it was there as the cooker rocked and rolled along the way, juice sloshing with each turn over the top and onto the carpeted floor. Even after I cleaned it up, I had to drive with the windows rolled down for weeks until my “new” car smell went away.
Not surprisingly, some claim there are foods to avoid. Turkey’s fine on Thanksgiving or any other day, apparently, but not to start the year. Chicken’s a no-no, too. In fact, if you’re superstitious, you may want to avoid any type of poultry or winged fowl, or your good luck will “fly away” with your meal.
Bottom-feeding fish, like halibut and catfish, are best left off the menu, too, because all that rummaging about for food on the sea or river floor may spill over and cause you to struggle to make ends meet for the next 12 months. Also discouraged, but only on New Year’s Day, are lobster, crabs and shrimp.
Personally, I’d also put shrimp on a list of foods to shun the night before. I still get a little queasy about the shellfish over a certain New Year’s Eve dinner choice some years ago that left an ache in my gut and a bad taste in my mouth. No need to say more.
Whether it’s pork and sauerkraut, shrimp or a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, I count myself among the fortunate who’ve always known where their next meal was coming from.
For many people, those struggling this year to feed themselves and their families, it’s not about what’s on their plate, only that there is something, anything on their plate.
Miles-long lines of cars at food banks and queues formed by those desperate for assistance outside of soup kitchens illustrate the stark reality of the pandemic’s toll on pocketbooks as it swept away millions of jobs when businesses, large and small, closed or reduced operations.
Feeding America, the nation’s largest hunger-relief organization, projected in 2020 that more than 50 million people in the country were facing the possibility of food insecurity, including 17 million children.
For those of us with sufficient means, there’s no better moment than this holiday season of haves and have-nots to donate food, cash or time to help the many who are struggling to weather a financial crisis that’s not of their making.
Here’s hoping for profoundly better luck for the nation, and especially those less fortunate, in 2021.
And to everyone: Happy New Year!