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Institute Finds Ways to Celebrate Thanksgiving Together, But at a Distance

With Caltech's usual in-person Thanksgiving celebrations rendered impossible because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the campus adapted to ensure that members of the community had the opportunity to gather socially, if not in person.

On the Monday before Thanksgiving, Tom Mannion, senior director of student activities and programs, demonstrated online the process of preparing and presenting a holiday feast to share, a tradition he has maintained, usually in person, for 26 years.

Wearing a white chef's jacket and speaking from his kitchen, Mannion offered his "Science of Thanksgiving Dinner" demonstration, which featured discussions of the Maillard reaction (responsible for the distinctive flavor of browned food), the amino acid tryptophan (wrongly associated with inducing drowsiness in eaters of turkey meals), and the evolution of squash and pumpkins.

Mannion told his audience during the 42-minute demonstration that his goal was simply "to geek out a little bit about the science of Thanksgiving dinner," adding that he hoped that "when you're eating dinner with the family, you can share some cool stuff with them and think a little bit more about what you're eating."

The following evening, Dining Services together with the Graduate Student Council, the Office of Residential Experience, and the Caltech Postdoctoral Association hosted a virtual gathering for graduate students, postdocs, and their families.

Isabel Peng, graduate residential life coordinator, says about 700 grad students, postdocs, and staff enjoyed meals provided by Dining Services for the event, which included virtual boardgames and chat rooms on Gather Town as well as two virtual escape rooms that attracted 37 participants.

"Although we are unable to get together in person, we want to encourage individuals to reach out to their own networks and set up virtual Zoom sessions to enjoy their meals together," Peng says. "Despite a challenging year, we wanted to continue the Caltech Thanksgiving tradition and provide members of the community with a holiday meal to enjoy."

—Jon Nalick

Written by Jon Nalick