By Jillian Green DiGiacomo
When my mom was first married, she asked her friend Marilyn how to make a pot roast.
Marilyn said it was easy, all she had to do was take a three-pound roast, cut about 2 inches off the end then brown it, season it and throw it in a Dutch oven for a few hours.
The instructions seemed simple enough but why, my mom asked, did she have to cut off two inches of perfectly good meat? Marilyn said she had no idea. That was just how her mom always made it so that’s what she did too.
Marilyn had been using that recipe for years and since dinner came out perfectly every time, it never crossed her mind to wonder why. That night, Marilyn called her mom and asked why it was so important to cut the end off the pot roast before cooking it. Was it to keep the moisture in? Was it to create a more even cooking surface? Her mother remained silent at the end of the line for quite some time.
Marilyn called my mom the next morning hysterically laughing.
It turned out the pot roast recipe never called for two inches of perfectly good meat to be cut off and discarded. The roasting pan that Marilyn’s mother used to make her pot roast, the one that was passed down from her own grandmother, the one that had lots of sentimental value, was very small. The pan was so small, in fact, that the only way for a pot roast to fit in it was to simply lop off a chunk of the end of it.
So every Tuesday night for her entire childhood Marilyn watched this ritual, and when she herself got married and began cooking for her own family, she did what her mom did. She didn’t question the method. Why would she?
And had my mother not asked, Marilyn would have gone on for years and years wasting perfectly good meat for no reason whatsoever. Had my mom not asked the simple question “why?”, she would have followed Marilyn’s recipe and I, to this very day, would likely be hacking the end off of every pot roast following my mother’s tried and true recipe.
I think about Marilyn and her unfortunate pot roast this time every year as I gird myself to enter the holiday season, a time of year that is loaded with family rituals and traditions.
We carve turkeys, sing carols and light candles because, well, because that’s what we did last year. That’s how we do our holidays. We exchange gifts, we gather with friends and family, we eat a lot. But why?
Sure, there are some traditions that are steeped in religion, that harken back to a time or a story that we want to remember. But a lot of that stuff…the lights, the over-consumption, the arguments…are more about habit than logic. We rarely question why we do things, we just do them. And for the most part, there is no real downside to how we spice our eggnog or roast our chestnuts. But some of our traditions might do well to be re-examined.
I’d like to take this opportunity to suggest one.
If you are an American, no matter your religion, no matter your political beliefs, no matter how you choose to spend your holidays or what state you live in, there is one tradition that you likely cling to, year after year. As a nation, we are steeped in the tradition of re-electing our politicians. Did you know that 96 percent of politicians who run for re-election are in fact re-elected?
Every two years, we hold national elections in which every seat in the House of Representatives and 1/3 of those in the Senate are up for grabs. But we as a collective, march to the ballot boxes and without much thought, check the same box that we checked in the past. Our system of government guarantees that our president can only be re-elected once. This is a good thing, since we sent our last 3 presidents back to the oval office. And I’m guessing we’d continue to re-elect the same person a third time if left to our own devices.
So, if you love your local representative, if you know what s/he is fighting for, if you are happy with the work s/he is doing, then by all means, keep your voting tradition alive and well.
But, if like Marilyn, you are voting for a lopped off piece of pot roast whose name happens to be listed in the column that you always choose, I implore you, I implore all of us to ask the question “why?” Why this person? And if the answer is anything other than “Because this person is the best person for the job”, then let’s vote them out and throw some fresh meat into our government.
And, may I suggest, if you look around and do not see the best person for the job, maybe that person is you. Why not start a new tradition? If Marilyn could do it, there’s still hope for the rest of us.
Jillian Green DiGiacomo is an American author living in America. Her award-winning novel, Codename Cupcake lampoons motherhood, spy novels and the PTA. She has contributed articles on completely unrelated topics to Points in Case, The Encouraging Dads Project, and Hooray for Moms . Jillian’s children’s book, Off the Wall, was published by Story People Press in 2011. She’d love for you to check out her blog.
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