Schreiner University: Pies and profound acts of gratitude

Schreiner University President

Some time ago, when I was a full-time instructor, one of the courses I taught was in cultural, social, and economic practices relating to the production and consumption of food – known as Foodways.  

At first it was not easy to convince students to enroll in the class.  I understood their skepticism: “Is food and the context surrounding food really worthy of study?”  But it never took long to illustrate to them that, while food is certainly about the delight of taste and the necessity of calories and nutrients, it is also about the ritual wherein much of our individual and collective identities are worked out, our values are articulated and reinforced, and power is shaped and dismantled.  

I would ask students, for instance, if they remembered when they migrated from the kid’s table to the adult’s table. Almost always, they remembered it vividly.  Occasionally, they told stories of being demoted again to the children’s table only to start the long journey back towards maturity. And they remembered how certain recipes were earned and not simply given.

And they remembered how their family marked the passage of time through the consumption of particular foods throughout the year.  Food is only a little bit about what we eat.

 It is no surprise that Thanksgiving plays a central role in any study of American Foodways. It is a holiday that foregrounds the table and food. Other holidays have their foodstuffs associated with them, but Thanksgiving is a celebration of food.  The turkey has claimed most of the scholarly and popular attention (though many families opt for something other than turkey on their tables), and all the sides have had their own dissertations written about them.

And I am not just talking about writing recipes and etiquette guides. No, no—for some, the arguments are all philosophical and theological: is it a mortal sin to stuff the turkey instead of serving dressing? So with the meal’s centerpiece and its accompanying dishes fully analyzed, allow me to reflect for a few moments on the beloved pie.   

If you have any doubt as to the power of cultural norms and social conventions on our everyday lives, I give you the pie. Why would anyone with a lick of good sense wait to eat pie until the end of the meal when they are already stuffed? Because on a very basic level we lack the autonomy to live our lives as we want to live them and, instead, we let culture and society determine what we do.  Oh pie, we want to consume you first, but our cultural conventions refuse to allow us to do so.   

And pies are markers of identity.  In my family—and probably for your family, too—some of us are pumpkin pie people; others are pecan pie people.  The differences between these two are profound.  Pumpkin pie people are kind and generous and caring.  Pecan pie people are difficult, rarely happy with the temperature of the pie, and frequently wanting something added to it—like ice cream.  Pecan pie people are never satisfied.  Pecan pie people make snarky comments about other pies, too; comments like: “Pumpkin pies are nothing but a trick to get people to eat nutmeg” (and then they fake a retching sound).   

My daughters and I eat pumpkin pie.  That means you know more about us than just the sort of pie we like.  And while there is no reason to point fingers or name names, my wife is on the wrong side of (our family’s pie) history regarding this issue.   

She and her pecan pies.   

Don’t even get me started on apple pies.   

Lightheartedness aside and the cultural conditioning and the political life of pies notwithstanding, I think pies also provide us an important lesson for living our lives.  Pies are profound acts of gratitude.  People worry through the turkey, they hurry to make the gravy, and they are as liable to use cranberry sauce from a can as make it from scratch.  Not so with pies.  I think a pie really only achieves it pie-ness when it is an expression of thankfulness.  

Perhaps that is why pies are so indelibly connected to Thanksgiving.  Those of us who eat pie remember this lesson too infrequently. We love the pie, that we know; we forget that we love the pie because the piemaker loves us.  The piemaker certainly loves us enough to make us something delicious.   

In that spirit, Schreiner University wishes you all an abundance of pies this holiday.  In a fall semester that has been unlike any other fall semester we have seen in higher education, the Kerrville community has expressed its support for Schreiner employees and students in a thousand ways:  from donated face shields and gifts to the Hill Country College Fund to wearing Schreiner gear and participating in our drive-through Halloween celebration.  We thank you.   

Whichever type of pie you enjoy this Thanksgiving, I hope that as it fills you with delight, you remember the gratitude all of us at Schreiner feel for Kerrville and the Hill Country.  And I hope you choose pumpkin.

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