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Barbershop Thanksgiving: Talking Politics At The Table


It's time now for a trip to the Barbershop, and that's where we gather a group of interesting folks together to talk about what's in the news and what's on our minds. Joining us in the seats for a shape-up this week are Danielle Belton, editor of The Root. She joins us from NPR's bureau in New York City. Danielle, Hi.


WERTHEIMER: And here in D.C., We also have Steven Petrow, the host of the Civilist podcast and a columnist for The Washington Post and USA Today. Hi, Steven.

STEVEN PETROW: Hi, Linda. Nice to be with you.

WERTHEIMER: And back in the Barbershop, after a long time away on the campaign trail is NPR's Sam Sanders. Sam, welcome back.

SAM SANDERS, BYLINE: Thank you. It's good to be here.

WERTHEIMER: As you all may know, turkey day is next week, so we wanted to have a Thanksgiving-themed Barbershop today. We specifically asked this crew to revisit an old time argument which occurred in the Barbershop just about this time last year and involves a certain dessert. We'll get into that in a minute. But, first, turkey day has a way of bringing people together from all sides of the political spectrum - aka family.

So some of you are probably bracing for an argumentative and frustrating week no matter who you voted for. Let's open it up to the Barbershop. Should we just decide that after this political year we're not going to talk politics at the Thanksgiving table? What do you think?

PETROW: Well, you know, my personal suggestion is we should move Thanksgiving further away from Election Day. Sixteen days is too close.


PETROW: The federal government has done this before. They have manipulated the holidays, so I think we need a little bit of a breather here myself.

BELTON: Well, see that's interesting because I'm actually wanting to talk about politics when I go home, to be honest. I mean, other things I'd like to talk about, you know, are popular culture, music, celebrity - basically anything to keep my grandmother from asking me yet again why I'm not married and have not produced a grandchild.


BELTON: So anything to avoid that particular conversation, I'm willing to engage on. Let's talk about the president-elect all night.

WERTHEIMER: Good thinking by you. (Laughter). Sam?

SANDERS: I think you should actually talk about politics. I think the one thing that I've noticed and that everyone has noticed in hindsight from this election and campaign season is that a lot of people across the country are only talking to people that agree with them politically, and they don't know whatever other side there is thinks. And then, you know, they caricature them. So I think you should go into these conversations and try to ask questions to learn, not to influence. But, yeah, we should be talking about politics now more than ever because our politics system-wide is pretty nasty right now.

WERTHEIMER: You know, Sam, I would have bet that you - it would be the last thing you wanted to do because you are obviously going to be the expert at the table. And everybody is going to want to know what really happened? What did you really think? I can't - I mean, it's going to be - you're going to have a hard row here.

SANDERS: Well, you know, I always kind of have fun with Thanksgiving. Last year, I live-tweeted the family dinner over Thanksgiving which was pretty hilarious.


PETROW: Ah, you're one of them.

SANDERS: I'm one of them.

WERTHEIMER: What about doing some sort of can one in civility - can one have a sort of ground rules thing going on? Can you - could you say, OK, you know, we are going to - we're going to talk about politics? Of course, we'll talk about politics.

PETROW: But you can set some ground rules, and you can say, first of all, we're not going to talk about politics at all or we're going to only talk about politics before we sit down and break the metaphoric bread and have that be at a discreet period of time. And I also urge people to come up with sort of these alternative questions to politics so that when things get overheated, you can turn to them - and it's a thread going on right now on NPR producers page out of Los Angeles of alternative topics - hilarious. There are hundreds and hundreds. And the one I like best is how many consecutive hours of "Family Feud" can you watch before your head explodes?

SANDERS: Well, which "Family Feud?" Steve Harvey "Family Feud" or the old "Family Feud?"


PETROW: I thought this was something everyone could agree on, Sam? Danielle?

BELTON: That's a different kind of engagement. That's a good kind of engagement.

WERTHEIMER: Well, here's one thing that happens in my family. I've, you know - I've seen other people refer to this, but my family - they'll say I got to go check on my truck. Now, what that means is I'm going outside and getting a drink.


PETROW: I like that. I'll have to try that one.

SANDERS: My kind of truck.

WERTHEIMER: So I think, you know - I mean, there are ways of getting around it. But here's something that might be on some Thanksgiving tables this time around - the world's costliest collard greens.

BELTON: Oh, my goodness.

WERTHEIMER: In case anybody missed it, we're talking about a seasonal offering from the department store Neiman Marcus which offers a selection of prepared holiday foods. But for a very steep price, Danielle, you looked into this.

BELTON: Yes. So Neiman Marcus was selling $66 collard greens. We wrote about it on The Root - plus shipping.

SANDERS: I still can't even imagine that.

BELTON: Plus shipping. Shipping was $15. So they really were $81 collard greens.

SANDERS: How many ounces of greens did you get for this?

BELTON: You got four Lean Cuisine-sized packages.

PETROW: Oh, my. They must have been delicious, right?

WERTHEIMER: Was it delicious?

BELTON: No. It was the direct opposite of delicious. It was impossibly nasty.

SANDERS: How - like what kind of nasty was it?

BELTON: Like - it was like waxy paper covered in grease.


BELTON: It's crunchy and slimy. It was like collard green-flavored gum.

WERTHEIMER: Collard greens - I mean, you would think if you paid this amount of money for collard greens, it would fill the dining room.

BELTON: You would think. Like, you know, I kept trying to think of if there were any type of collard greens I would pay $66 for and I couldn't think of any situation where I would do that. But I really felt like these collard greens are for people that have no idea what collard greens are supposed to taste like.

PETROW: Danielle, I was just thinking Neiman Marcus and collard greens - that does not seem like a match.

WERTHEIMER: It does not compare.


BELTON: And the other thing that was disappointing was the packaging. Like, you think that you - I paid, you know, basically $81 for collard greens - it would come in, like, some glorious Neiman-Marcus, like, special package. And it was just like - it literally was like a little Lean Cuisine without a box cover on it.

WERTHEIMER: Now, I got to tell you that they - some of the other listings were like vegetarian cornbread dressing...

SANDERS: Vegetarian dressing? Oh, my God.

WERTHEIMER: ...Eighty-five dollars, Chicken pot pie $75, butternut squash puree for 80 bucks. Now that is...

PETROW: Oh, so you got a deal, Danielle - $66.


BELTON: I know, only.

PETROW: For all that misery.


WERTHEIMER: OK. Steven, here's a Southern moment for you. Pecan pie for 12 people - $80.

PETROW: Well, the cost of pecans - 13.99 a pound now in North Carolina - went out to my local farm, so there's a nice profit margin on that pie. But I do have to make a correction for myself from last year. I argued with Sam and others that it was pecan pie, and all my friends in North Carolina came after me and said, no, Steven, it's pecan.

SANDERS: See, I say pecan.


SANDERS: And I am from Texas.

SANDERS: I am from the San Antonio area, but I was raised in a town called Seguin, Texas. That town's claim to fame is it is the pecan capital of the world. There's a big pecan statue outside of the courthouse. We all say pecan.

BELTON: We also say pecan in my household.

WERTHEIMER: Me, too. Me, too.

PETROW: And now I'm the minority, yet again, and I've changed my point of view.


SANDERS: You'll never win.

PETROW: But, North Carolina, I heard you - pecan.

WERTHEIMER: OK. So pecan, all right. So before we let you all go, is anybody feeling thankful?

SANDERS: Yeah. Thankful the election is over for one.

WERTHEIMER: I would say that, too.

SANDERS: But also, you know, this year I've been co-host in the - our Politics podcast here at NPR, and it's been this space where me and my colleagues and our listeners across the country have been able to come together. And it has been very nice to know in light of what has seemed to be a particularly combative election season that we still can be nice and talk about politics. I'm thankful for that.


BELTON: I am thankful for my father. You know, for most of my life, my mother had been the rock of our family, and she fell ill a few years back and is still in the midst of it. And my dad really completely rose to the occasion to take the place as the rock in the family. And, you know, to make the family meals, he babysits my nephew. And he's become a caretaker for my mother, and he never complains. You know, no matter how difficult it's been for him, and I'm really appreciative of that.


PETROW: Well, I think mine is in between both Sam and Danielle's because I've been doing the Civilist podcast which is essentially aimed at helping us talk about issues that we can't talk about, that we shout about. And we've had some wonderful conversations where I think we've been listening and getting out of those echo chambers and then really kind of to the point that Danielle's making. My mom has been in hospice care the last six months, and I want to really call out those beautiful, amazing people who work for hospice. I've seen so many of them, and they - they've just given such grace to my mom. And I'm thankful for that and for her.

WERTHEIMER: And I'm thankful for all of you.


SANDERS: Aw. The feeling's mutual.

WERTHEIMER: (Laughter) And that is all the time we have for today. We've - you've heard today from NPR's Sam Sanders, columnist Steven Petrow and The Root's Danielle Belton. Thank you all. Happy Thanksgiving, everybody.

SANDERS: Happy Thanksgiving.

BELTON: Happy Thanksgiving.

PETROW: Pecan.

SANDERS: (Laughter). Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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