When we think the harvest, we think food. We picture fields of corn stretching as far as the eye can see and beyond, and teams of horses and farm hands diligently harvesting the last crop before winter, from dusk to dawn. This brings us to the reason for the name, Harvest moon.
The harvest moon is merely another full moon. It draws its name from days of long ago, before tractors and all manners of harvesting equipment had built-in lights. Light from the full moon nearest the time of the fall equinox helped farmers stay out on the fields longer in spite of the shortening days.
In truth, the harvest moon occurs anywhere between two weeks prior to, or two weeks after the autumn equinox. This year, in these northern parts, the equinox comes on September 22. The harvest moon is on the 19th.
Our gorgeous Vermont fall days, with their rich colors and brisk mornings, seem to increase our appetite for warm, hearty foods. However, this is almost a chicken or egg conundrum. Food suppliers display and promote their merchandise differently this time of year. This is based on availability, of course, but cultural factors come into play as well. In other words, what we see and hear, the stories we know from growing up in this part of the world and the traditions we follow, such as thanksgiving, influence our appetite more than the moon. In fact, if we had the ability to disregard all outside influences and focus only on the body’s actual needs, we’d find that our appetite diminishes during the harvest moon; not the other way around.
There are even diets that take advantage of this uncommon influence from the moon. According to the proponents of such diets (and we are not rejecting their idea, just presenting it), the most effective time to begin a low-calorie diet is two days prior to the harvest moon. This, they explain, is the time when cravings are at their peak, so the dieter would not in fact diet at this point, but indulge instead. Then, the low-calorie regimen can begin with the full moon, when cravings decrease, making it easier for the body to detoxify.
Some attribute the body’s reduced appetite at this precise time to the full moon’s influence upon water tides, suggesting that since our bodies are composed of about 80% water, we too are subject to the pull of a full moon.
We have known of the effects of the moon on ocean tides since ancient Greece. The notion of a similar impact on the body is ancient as well. Roman historian Pliny the Elder and Greek philosopher Aristotle both theorized that since the moon could pull waters from the ocean, it stood to reason that it should have the same effect on the moisture of the body. In their case, however, they did not see a correlation with appetite, but rather one with lunacy.
They believed that since the brain contained much water and stood closest to the skies, it should no doubt be much influenced by the moon, to the point of altering the mind. This belief was held as true well into the Middle Ages and was certainly discussed over lavish and modest meals alike by many scholars and perplexed parents of children with colorful personalities.
Science has since explained that the effects of the moon are far too subtle to have a significant impact on the brain. As with taste, perhaps the correct answer lies in the eye of the beholder. Autumn moons can be spectacular and inspire awe. They make us pause when we are about to pull the shades and stop on the side of the road on the way home, to snap pictures. They increase our appetite for savoring the moment more consciously.