Culture of Thanksgiving Food
(Image courtesy of Karen Blance, www.gasd.org/barkley/thanksgiving/
|The Turkey Industry|
|Elements of the Thanksgiving Meal|
|Thanksgiving and the Environment|
"The turkey is a symbol of deep, almost maternal nourishment. In our American tall tales, animals are giant. Game abounds. Hunters fire a single shot into a tree and birds fall for twenty-four hours. In the early years of the republic, America seemed to have everything, and more of it than anywhere else. The belief that God has especially favored this land is deeply embedded in Thanksgiving. We act it out within the Thanksgiving meal as we give thanks to the Lord for all his blessings. The blessings are manifested in the food itself: its quantity, its voluminousness. We eat until we can eat no more, and still there is food left to be eaten."
-Jack Santino, All Around the Year
The values that Thanksgiving represents continue to resonate across political and social boundaries today. According to Samuel Wilson, the feast of Thanksgiving is a phenomenon of our time, a morality tale involving modern American values of self-reliance, religious and political freedom, and racial harmony (1992: 24-25).
The turkey is the centerpiece of the holiday, as evidenced by the fact that some people call Thanksgiving “Turkey Day.” Throughout the history of Thanksgiving the largest turkeys have been chosen for Thanksgiving, and today’s turkeys are bigger than ever (occasionally with the help of growth hormones). The first Thanksgiving occurred due to the bounty of the harvest, a veritable sign from God that this land was blessed and its people would not go hungry. This blessing from God is manifest in the large feasts we eat, in the sheer volume of food, often more so than the quality of food. The advertising industry made turkeys, pumpkins, and cornucopias popular images associated with Thanksgiving by linking them to ideas of bounty, prosperity, and abundance. In the late 19 th century, civic, religious, and folk liturgies were intertwined with commercial holiday rituals that centered on consumption (Pope 1997:85-7).
(Thanksgiving pageant, Maxfield School, St. Paul, 1904, Image courtest of the MN Historical Society)
Popular culture has taken the Thanksgiving story and ran with it. Schools teach the Thanksgiving story as if it were fact, and the whole story/myth is so ingrained in our consciousness that we don’t stop to think what that story means.
Thanksgiving time is a chance for many people to return home and spend time with their families. Thanksgiving is all about a return to our pasts, and this is evidenced in the foods that we eat year after year. Granted, vegetarians have eschewed turkey in favor of tofurkey, and immigrants have incorporated their own native dishes into the holiday. Yet, for many Americans, the same foods are consumed year after year. The only problem is that the foods aren’t really the same after all. The Thanksgiving foods of today are more processed than ever, and often have traveled long distances.
Ron Meador argues that feasting and big meals of celebration have become so commonplace that the Thanksgiving meal is no longer a departure from our everyday eating (2004: 1AA). I would have to agree with Meador on this point—while Thanksgiving meals still remain important for many families, in terms of the actual eating aspect of the holiday, it does not seem as special as it must have for families of yesteryear.
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