by Daniel Wang, Staff Writer, November 2020 & art by Isabela Fitzgerald, Multimedia & Staff Artist

Thanksgiving dinners are unavoidable hotbeds for intra-family conflict. One issue that always stimulates intense debate in my household is the question of which holiday side reigns supreme. In an effort to spite my sister, who maintains that country-style cornbread stuffing is the best accoutrement in any Thanksgiving meal, I created an all-school survey to collect data regarding students’ favorite and least favorite Thanksgiving sides. Here is a brief analysis of some notable results from the study.

Mashed potatoes, with or without gravy, received a distinct plurality of votes for most favorite (with 37.6% of the vote), second most favorite (with 20.5% of the vote), and third most favorite (with 17.1% of the vote) Thanksgiving side. Unless a substantial group of tater fanatics ranked mashed potatoes as their first, second, and third most favorite side, these results suggest that an overwhelming 75.1% of students surveyed consider mashed potatoes as one of their top three sides to enjoy over the holidays. Jacob Casper (Class II) was not at all surprised by students’ appreciation of mashed potatoes. He said, “Mashed potatoes are one of those dishes that are homey, comforting, and satisfying. When you eat them, you feel like your mother has just pulled them out of the oven. In that sense, they are evocative of the classic 1950s suburban lifestyle.” According to Casper, nostalgia seems to be one of the most important factors driving respondents’ appreciation of mashed potatoes. Surprisingly, students disagreed on the sides’ spelling. ‘Mash potatoes’, ‘mashed potats’, and ‘cash potatoes’ are just some examples of the numerous variants employed by students.

Although mashed potatoes received universally high marks, stuffing, another Thanksgiving classic, galvanized both resounding support and scathing criticism. The starchy side came in second place for both students’ most favorite side (with 17.8% of the vote) and least favorite side (with 11.1% of the vote). Perhaps, stuffing’s simultaneously crunchy and moist texture contributed to students’ ambivalence. Another factor may be the tremendous difference in quality amongst various dressings. Casper elaborated, “The range between a really good stuffing and a really bad stuffing is enormously wide. For example, the stuffing that your mother makes is probably amazing, whereas a stuffing from a takeout place or cafeteria may not be.” 

Cranberry sauce was perhaps the most divisive Thanksgiving staple; the gelatinous semi-liquid was hailed as students’ least favorite side (with 22.2% of the vote). Concurrently, roughly a quarter of those surveyed (24.7% of the vote to be exact) ranked cranberry sauce among their top two favorite sides. Considering that a recent geo-tagged Twitter survey concluded that cranberry sauce was the ‘most hated’ side in Massachusetts, it may not come as a surprise that the condiment was ranked as the least favorite by respondents. The fact that a considerable number of respondents lauded cranberry sauce is much more perplexing. One possible explanation is that, thanks to its acidity, cranberry sauce can be paired well with many traditional Thanksgiving dishes. “Cranberry sauce is interesting because it falls into the same territory as gravy in that it is not something that I would consider as a side per se. However, it is integral in making turkey as delicious as it does, and it can be put on a number of sides as it adds a tangy and sweet balance to a lot of the rich, savory notes indicative of Thanksgiving dinner,” said Casper. 

Most surprisingly, bread rolls garnered significant praise from those surveyed with roughly one fourth of respondents (25.2% of the vote to be exact) ranking rolls among their three favorite holiday sides. According to Casper, rolls have the distinct advantage of being a prelude to the core dinner regiment. “Rolls serve more as an appetizer, a food you consume before the main meal,” said Casper. Another factor that may have influenced students’ rankings is that, like mashed potatoes, rolls are a ubiquitous part of any ‘traditional’ Thanksgiving meal. 

As Casper has repeatedly emphasized, students’ rankings of sides are heavily influenced by what they associate with household meals; numerous respondents commented on how they enjoyed specific sides only when prepared with familial recipes and in the company of relatives. Although the current public health crisis has hampered many students’ holiday plans, the nostalgic power of side dishes might still bring us comfort this Thanksgiving. I know I will be whipping up some stuffing with my sister via Zoom, despite the fact that we are three time zones away from each other. (P.S. Claire Wang, if you are reading this, you’re still wrong. Sweet potato and gruyere gratin is definitely the best side.)