Written by David Anderson of Finding Your Soul

A man named Donald Patterson of Dayton, Ohio, tells an embarrassing story about the big cranberry scare. It happened some years ago, just at Thanksgiving time. Some pesticide had tainted a portion of the nation’s cranberry crop. This thing is, people never found out about it until they had already bought their cranberry sauce for the Big Dinner. So a lot of people had a lot of cranberry sauce they didn’t know what to do with.

That part of the story Mr. Patterson knew. The embarrassing part he found out years later—from a young woman who was just a little girl back in the year of the big cranberry scare. Back then she was a tot from a poor family who had been adopted by a church in town. The people from church would see to it that her family had a little something extra at holiday time. So at Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, they’d collect clothes and food and present it to her family. And that year at Thanksgiving time, she remembers, they received the usual offering: a big turkey with all the fixings, and groceries to last them for weeks. And one more thing. They received cranberry sauce. Lots of it. Fifty-seven cans.

You wince when you hear a story like that. It’s the shudder of recognition. Yes, we are like that. Yes, I’ve given gifts like that. Gifts that didn’t cost me anything. Gifts that demean the recipient, and the giver too.

With the advent of Thanksgiving the “holidays” begin. These are days that epitomize grace, abundance and love—even if our hopes for the holidays never quite match their reality. We know we’re blessed, and we feel an impulse to give. The simple fact is, it’s nice to receive gifts, but deep joy and satisfaction come only when we give something costly—more than we really could “afford.”

If you want to enjoy the best holiday season ever, it’s easy. Just give the best you have to offer. Let’s give the holiday food we’d love to feast on, not just the stuff left over in our own pantries with expired date stamps. Let’s splurge. Be extravagant.

When we give what’s left over, what we can do without, it’s not a gift. A gift has to cost us something; there has to be a sacrifice. And when we do, something transforms the giver.

All the rest is bad cranberries.


As we enter this holiday season, think about calling your local food bank. Find out what they need most this time of year and what you can do to help. If you feel so inclined, share what you learned and what you donated with your readers, it might just inspire someone else to give generously too.



7 Responses to Bad Cranberries

  1. My family is not close and traveling to visit them for the holidays just does not happen so I make room for a new family over the holidays. Giving cans of food to a food bank is easy (I’m appalled at your story, that people would do that) and we drop off a bag of groceries for that purpose each year. But what fills my soul is sharing my table. Inviting others without family and sometimes without means for a big meal.

    We contact the local nursing home and invite a couple of their residents to join us. There is nothing quite like giving the simplicity of a family meal to people who might otherwise have felt forgotten. To us it’s just a couple of more plates and a generosity of spirit. To them it’s everything.

  2. It’s lovely to give/donate what you would serve to your own family and friends at your own table. Most items must be non-perishable, but our local food bank usually collects frozen turkeys at the grocery store. Thank you for this thoughtful post, I will make sure to donate an extra turkey from our family this year and will think of you when I do it!

  3. What an insightful & inspiring piece. I shuddered at the thought of those cranberry cans given to that family. I hope people find it in their hearts to give more this season. Having grown up outside of the USA, I admire the abundance & affordability of food here. At the same time, I am appalled at how much we take that blessing for granted. Happy Holidays to you and your family.

  4. Yael Tiferet says:


    I definitely agree with you that it is horrid and wrong to give things away that you wouldn’t want anyone you cared about to receive. The story about the tainted cranberry sauce is appalling, and I’m also frequently horrified by the way people will donate stained, worn-out clothing to charity. I mean, if you need the money, and I often have, by all means sell things that are gently used enough to go on eBay, but don’t give away things that are actually ready to go in the trash.

    I once worked for a major retailer (for obvious reasons I won’t say which one) and was completely skeeved out that they donated clothing that had been used for QA testing (and therefore had small holes, &c) to shelters and other charities.

    But I have to take issue with the notion that the best gifts are costly ones that you can’t really afford. I wouldn’t want to receive something that a person had beggared themselves to give–it would make me feel too guilty, especially if it wasn’t something I wanted. There is far too much pressure to over-spend and over-do at this time of year, to go into debt, to do more than the next person, to give more than you can afford to give and pay the rest of the year.

    I cannot more strongly disagree that the best gifts are costly and difficult to afford (especially when there is so much pressure to give to everyone–co-workers, delivery people, teachers, and so on).

    The best gifts for close friends and family are the ones that display forethought and consideration, that are chosen with the recipient’s tastes and feelings in mind (NOT one’s own*), but are affordable–or even hand-made (though again, if you are going to make gifts by hand for others, that should be done with the thought of pleasing them, not pleasing yourself).

    For people you don’t know well…there’s nothing wrong with carefully chosen baked goods or small amounts of cash. (If I were baking a large batch of cookies to give to say, everyone at work, I’d use vegan, kosher, gluten and nut free ingredients, so as to be able to please everyone.) But let’s not exhort people to go overboard this time of year. Too many people wake up in a panic in January when all the bills start arriving. Neither Chanukah nor Christmas nor Yule nor Kwanzaa nor any of the other many Winter Holidays were meant to be occasions for going into debt and increasing one’s worries.

    (*I come from a family in which there are several members who always use the holidays to try and impose their tastes on others. My mother in particular is known for giving clothing in the colours and styles she thinks you should wear–often in the size she thinks you should wear–and $25 gift certificates at stores where $25 won’t buy a pair of socks, which she thinks are far superior to those awful places where YOU shop. I once had an ex who always gave me flowers in his favourite colours, never mine. And so on.)

  5. Melissa says:

    In the absence of being able to change a system that leaves one or more families in need, then your message is so important. Thanks for sharing this story – I’ve shared it to my friends on Twitter & Facebook because I already know that it’s going to be something that’ll stick with me for awhile. Appalling behavior – makes me sad to think that anyone could exist with so little empathy for others.

  6. Niv Mani says:

    If you can’t afford to give something on the lines what you would normally use, then DON’T, Its horrible to adopt double standards, especially in the issue of food. Sharing food is probably the noblest act of giving, irrespective of any religion, caste, race, culture, community, you belong to.

  7. Sally says:

    What a beautiful reminder about the nature of giving. I agree that gifts should cost the donor something–I don’t mean in dollars–but perhaps in thoughtfulness, consideration, empathy, or precious time. There are so many ways to give that don’t cost us money but show true appreciation for the people on the receiving end. Thank you!