In Defense of Canned Cranberry Sauce
Thanksgiving dinner hosts around this great nation will have one command this year to their guests: “No politics…please.” They will hope and implore that the conversation turns to holiday plans and travel, to new babies and weddings in the extended family, school musicals, college and career ambitions, and that “cooked to perfection” turkey, for heaven’s sake—not the tax bill or tweet du jour.
I get it. And I’m damn sorry—because I have to inject a note of dissension into the holiday meal. I want to speak truth to power today and share with you what has been grating on me for years: On the grand holiday table, so-called “real” cranberry sauce is forcefully, and recklessly, displacing the canned cranberry sauce that I love. The crimson jelly roll that many of us grew up with—that jiggly, wiggly mold of tartness—is being uprooted from its rightful place on the Thanksgiving table. And in its stead, on that china-closet serving dish, is something unholy and natural, an interloper, a beguiler: something with pungent berries in it.
The move is part of the sweeping trend that is shaking the center aisles of the supermarket, as my esteemed colleague Beth Kowitt has written about so thoughtfully in the pages of Fortune: a migration away from processed foods to those that are simpler and less removed from nature. (See, for example, her magisterial 2015 cover story, “The War on Big Food.”) But the systemic deracination of the canned red barrel by the homemade berry concoction is a bridge too far.
Yes, I write about human health in this column. And yes, the shimmery, glimmery cranberry sauce I crave each November for precisely two meals a year—Thanksgiving dinner and the ritual post-Thanksgiving 10 p.m. white bread-turkey-cranberry sandwich—is composed of things that are almost surely antithetical to human health: Two of the four ingredients on most of the cans I’ve seen are high-fructose corn syrup and (plain old standard) corn syrup. But there’s an argument to be made that one amazing late-night sandwich is worth a little modest gut pollution. It’s a bonding experience for family, after all—and one likely to involve not a scintilla of political discussion. (Unless someone starts trash-talking mayo again….)
And please, dear Thanksgiving hosts, don’t sub in the organic jellied sauce for the authentic fake one. In our Fortune taste test, the verdict was unanimous that the “wholesome” organic version was unpalatable. One Fortune tester suggested it was a cross between apple sauce and cat food.
The hands-down winner of our informal office sampling—OceanSpray Jellied Cranberry Sauce (with 24 grams of sugar per serving)—went down easy, like a slippery jam, potent with berry flavor and a whiff of history. As one tester put it: “That’s the taste I grew up with, that I’ve had every Thanksgiving since I was five years old.”
And that, my friends, is the point.
Have a very happy Thanksgiving, everyone.
This essay appears in today’s edition of the Fortune Brainstorm Health Daily. Get it delivered straight to your inbox.