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This Gift-Food Grinch has a change of heart

There comes a time in every food writer's life when she has to - please pardon the pun - eat her words. To make amends and put things right. And so, this holiday season, I am doing just that. A while back in 2001, I climbed up on my radio soapbox and delivered an impassioned plea to boycott what I called "gift food." Not content to stop at disparaging the food itself, I went further. I jeered at holiday food packaging that depicted winter scenes of what I called "carolers caroling, sleigh bells jingling, or happy children traveling over the river and through the woods." Worst of all, I never stopped to wonder: In my crusade against gift food, how did I get to be such a Grinch about it all? For a long time after that - for years, actually - no one dared bring any gift food into my home. But a few Christmases ago, a writer friend clearly unfamiliar with my "zero tolerance" policy sent over a basket of jams and English muffins from Oregon. Vacuum packed muffins? Something as pedestrian as jam? I swallowed my disdain and sat down to taste what I was certain would be uninspired at best. I was puzzled. The jam was really good, thick and not too sweet. The muffins were chewy and yeasty anddare I say it? Fresh. I sampled all the flavors of muffins and jams and finally had to admit they were consistently lovely. Ultimately, some friends got the best of me. Recently, they returned from a trip to Canada with a little jug of maple syrup. The producer had affixed a label, in French; it listed his contact information in Quebec. Another sticker noted the grade of the syrup and the date it was processed. These are all very good things to a snobby and obsessive label-reader and packaging nit-picker. But then I turned the jug and saw it: the over-the-river snow scene, complete with a red-roofed barn in an orchard of tall trees. And yes, there was the happy family, busily gathering sap in buckets. That's when I realized something I'd overlooked before. Even if these images are cliched and corny, in many cases they are also real. There are real people working hard to bring us those jugs of maple syrup, jars of jam, loaves of bread and even the sticky fruitcakes. And so, something in the Gift-Food Grinch's undersized heart began to grow a couple of sizes bigger. So this year, like the Grinch, I am welcoming and celebrating what I once scorned. Gift food. And it would really be nice if we got a little bit of snow, too. Commentator Amy Rogers is the author of Hungry for Home: Stories of Food from Across the Carolinas.