2018 FAFDL Thanksgiving Reader


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The Thanksgiving Tale We Tell Is a Harmful Lie. As a Native American, I’ve Found a Better Way to Celebrate the Holiday

It was the Wampanoag in 1621 who helped the first wave of Puritans arriving on our shores, showing them how to plant crops, forage for wild foods and basically survive. The first official mention of a “Thanksgiving” celebration occurs in 1627, after the colonists brutally massacre an entire Pequot village, then subsequently celebrate their barbaric victory. Years later, President Washington first tried to start a holiday of Thanksgiving in 1789, but this has nothing to do with “Indians and settlers, instead it’s intended to be a public day of “thanksgiving and prayer.” (That the phrase “Merciliess Savage Indians” is written into the Declaration of Independence says everything we need to know about how the founders of America viewed the Indigenous Peoples of this land.) It wasn’t until the writer Sarah Josepha Hale persuaded President Lincoln that the Thanksgiving holiday was needed and could help heal the divided nation that it was made official in 1863. But even that was not the story we are all taught today. The inspiration for that was far more exclusionist.

. . . Many of my indigenous brothers and sisters refuse to celebrate Thanksgiving, protesting the whitewashing of the horrors our ancestors went through, and I don’t blame them. But I have not abandoned the holiday. I have just changed how I practice it.

The thing is, we do not need the poisonous “pilgrims and Indians” narrative. We do not need that illusion of past unity to actually unite people today. Instead, we can focus simply on values that apply to everybody: togetherness, generosity and gratitude. And we can make the day about what everybody wants to talk and think about anyway: the food.

People may not realize it, but what every person in this country shares, and the very history of this nation, has been in front of us the whole time. Most of our Thanksgiving recipes are made with indigenous foods: turkey, corn, beans, pumpkins, maple, wild rice and the like. We should embrace this.

The Presidential Turkey Pardon’s Weird Roots Go Back To The Iran-Contra Scandal

And even though 1947 was the first time the turkey lobby presented a turkey at the White House, turkey growers have been shipping turkeys to the White House since 1873.

“Poultry King” Horace Vose was the unofficial White House turkey provider until his death in 1913. Until 1947, it was a free-for-all. The White House Historical Association explains:

“By 1914, the opportunity to give a turkey to a President was open to everyone, and poultry gifts were frequently touched with patriotism, partisanship, and glee. In 1921, an American Legion post furnished bunting for the crate of a gobbler en route from Mississippi to Washington, while a Harding Girls Club in Chicago outfitted a turkey as a flying ace, complete with goggles. First Lady Grace Coolidge accepted a turkey from a Vermont Girl Scout in 1925. The turkey gifts had become established as a national symbol of good cheer.”

It wasn’t until 1963, when President John F. Kennedy took one look at the bird presented to him and declared, “We’ll just let this one grow.” As photographic proof of just how clearly these birds had been intended to be eaten, there was a foolproof sign around the bird’s neck that read, “GOOD EATING, MR. PRESIDENT!”

VISIT WILLIAMSBURGThe First Thanksgiving in America
It took place near Williamsburg, Va., not Plymouth, Mass. — and didn’t involve food!

That first Thanksgiving took place at today’s Berkeley Plantation on the banks of Virginia’s James River after 38 British settlers landed on Dec. 4, 1619, two years before the more famous festivities in Plymouth, Mass. They celebrated “a day of thanksgiving to Almighty God,” reading from the Book of Common Prayer. There was no grand meal. In fact, they likely fasted, a common practice during religious days in those times.

“Initially, a day of thanksgiving was something done by the church,” says Frank Clark, who supervises Historic Foodways, a Colonial Williamsburg department. “It was a religious thing. They would spend the day fasting and praying. There really is not a meal associated with it.”

They were following orders of the London-based Berkeley Company, which purchased 8,000 acres between what is now Williamsburg and Richmond to build a community of farms, storehouses, and homes. The company declared their arrival day must be yearly and perpetually kept holy. They followed those orders for two years until the native Powhatans attacked Berkeley on March 22, 1622, killing 347 people in several settlements.

Berkeley was then abandoned. Thanksgiving was not celebrated there again until 1956, almost a century after Abraham Lincoln declared Thanksgiving a holiday during the Civil War.

KAT ESCHNER | SMITHSONIAN MAGAZINE|The First Thanksgiving Parades Were Riots

For poor people, she writes, the holiday was “a masculine escape from family, a day of rule breaking and spontaneous mirth.” It wasn’t all fun and games, either: “Drunken men and boys, often masked, paraded from house to house and demanded to be treated,” she writes. “Boys misbehaved and men committed physical assaults on Thanksgiving as well as on Christmas.”

From this culture of “misrule” came the Fantastics. This group of pranksters, often dressed as women, paraded through the streets. “The Fantastics paraded in rural and urban areas of eastern and central Pennsylvania and New York City on Thanksgiving, New Year’s Eve and Day, Battalion Day, Washington’s Birthday and the fourth of July,” she writes. And unlike the loose groups of boys and men who middle and upper-class people feared, “Fantastical” parades were regarded as good fun.

LORRAINE BOISSONEAULT | SMITHSONIAN MAGAZINE| How the Formerly Ubiquitous Pumpkin Became a Thanksgiving Treat

It wasn’t until the early-19th century that Americans began to distinguish between the different forms of Cucurbita pepo, when masses of people moved from the rural countryside to urban areas during the Industrial Revolution. Zucchini and other summer squashes were sold as cultivars in city markets; the pumpkin, however, remained on farms, used as livestock feed. City-dwellers, meanwhile, ached with nostalgia for their connection to the land, Ott says. By the middle of the century, popular songs pined for happy childhoods spent on the farm. The pumpkin served as a symbol of that farming tradition, even for people who no longer actually worked on farms. “The pumpkin has no economic value in this new industrial economy,” Ott says. “The other squashes are associated with daily life, but the pumpkin represents abundance and pure agrarian ideals.”

Pumpkin pie first appeared as a recipe in the 1796 cookbook American Cookery, published by New England writer Amelia Simmons, and was sold mainly in that region. When the dessert gained popularity, it was billed as a New England specialty. That connection to the North translated to the pumpkin being appropriated by abolitionists leading up to and during the Civil War, Ott says. Women who championed the anti-slavery cause also wrote poetry and short stories about pumpkins, praising them as a symbol of the resilient, northern family farmer. The status of the squash rose to national prominence in 1863, when President Lincoln, at the behest of numerous women abolitionists, named the fourth Thursday in November as a national holiday.

“The women who [helped create] Thanksgiving as a holiday were strong abolitionists, so they associated pumpkin farms with northern virtue and very consciously compared it to Southern immoral plantation life,” Ott says. “That feeds into how Thanksgiving became a national holiday in the midst of the Civil War, when the pumpkin was a pivotal player in the northern harvest.”

DANIEL FRIED | THE ATLANTIC: Thomas Nast’s Thanksgiving Vision of American Identity

Let us consider Thomas Nast’s once-famous, now-obscure drawing, “Uncle Sam’s Thanksgiving Dinner,” a metaphoric vision of Lincoln’s America published by Harper’s Weekly just before Thanksgiving 1869.

In the drawing, Uncle Sam is carving the turkey; opposite him sits Lady Columbia; and at the abundant table are members of the American nation, men, women, and children from all corners of the globe in good spirits and affable conversation. The table centerpiece proclaims “self government” and “universal suffrage;” on the wall hangs a banner proclaiming the passage of the 15th Amendment on voting rights and a picture of Castle Garden, the nation’s great immigration receiving point before Ellis Island; the captions below read “Free, Equal” and “Come One Come All.”

What confidence! What a contrast between Nast’s image and the dark defensiveness of our times. “Uncle Sam’s Thanksgiving Dinner” is not a politically correct affectation; it is an expression of civic patriotism, a vision of America as truly “Novus ordo seclorum”—a “new order of the ages”—as is written on the Great Seal of the United States.

Moneyball for Turkeys

At the same time, the growth rate of turkeys was exploding. The turkey George W. Bush pardoned in 2003 took just 133 days to reach 17.5 pounds. Lyndon Johnson’s turkey in 1966 would have taken 220 days to reach that weight, according to Christine Baes, a geneticist at the University of Guelph, in Ontario, who is working with Hendrix Genetics on a research program. Faster growth means fewer days of feed, which means less energy and fewer resources going into each bird. And these savings, which have positive environmental impacts, are overwhelming thanks not to environmental conditions, but to the genetic transformation of these animals, a hyperdomestication. Size and growth rate are highly heritable traits, Baes said.

But these successes have not come without costs. As the turkeys grew in size, they lost mobility. Some had trouble walking. “In the ’90s, the critical voices got louder,” Baes said. “People started to look at the birds and say: ‘They can’t walk. They can’t stand up.’ They are growing so incredibly fast that there are all of these other problems that are coming up.”

. . .Aviagen, Hendrix Genetics’ main rival, has also committed to more “balanced” breeding goals. In opening a new genomics facility, the company’s chief technical officer held, its newest research “strengthens our ability to breed stronger, fitter and healthier birds with good robustness and adaptability to global production environments.” Of course, genetics is not going to do it all. No matter how chill a bird has been bred to be, it needs a decent place to live, as Purdue University’s Marisa Erasmus pointed out in a review of turkey life-quality issues published this year in Advances in Poultry Welfare. “Although it may be possible to resolve some welfare issues through genetic selection, environmental and management factors will continue to be important in improving turkey welfare,” Erasmus wrote.

D. Lawrence Tarazano, U.S. Patent and Trademark Office | Smithsonian.com
The Patents Behind Pumpkin Pie

National Geographic
A Few Things You (probably) Didn’t Know About Thanksgiving

Christopher Intagliata | Scientific American
Do Wine Over Those Brussel Sprouts

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