(Ernie Fliegel displays a twenty-two pound turkey prepared at his restaurant, the 620 Club, for then Vice-president-elect Hubert H. Humphrey for Thanksgiving. Photo by Minneapolis Star, 1964. Courtesy of the MN Historical Society)
|The turkey industry|
|Elements of Thanksgiving meals|
|Thanksgiving and the Environment|
My research project provided an interesting case in that no single area of research was adequate for me to explore and analyze. The challenge I faced was identifying what types of research could help provide an intellectual framework to work within. Since my project, focusing on the environmental and cultural meanings of Thanksgiving, is not an area in which much scholarly work has been conducted, I needed to find sources that dealt with specific aspects of my project and I then needed to incorporate the somewhat disparate elements of my research. The areas of study which I felt would be most relevant to my project were: sources that described Thanksgiving history, sources that interpreted the cultural and social meanings of Thanksgiving and the food of the holiday, and finally, research on the turkey industry and some of the associated environmental effects.
I began with research into the origins of Thanksgiving and its history over approximately the last 375 years. I felt that the story behind Thanksgiving would provide an important background component to my project and provide a basis for my own interpretations of the meaning of the holiday and its food. Samuel Wilson’s article "Pilgrim’s Paradox," connected the story of Thanksgiving to the modern cultural values Americans hold today, arguing that the story of the Pilgrims and the Thanksgiving feast hold specific symbolic meanings. Jane Nylander’s “New England Thanksgiving” contributed to my knowledge of the foods and traditions of New England Thanksgiving’s of the 19 th century and allowed me to compare the meals that I read about with what typical Thanksgiving meals are like today. Elizabeth Pleck and Diana Muir each provide fairly detailed accounts of the evolution of the Thanksgiving holiday. Pleck discusses how Thanksgiving represents a desire for a return to an idealized past, and she also looks into what the holiday has meant for immigrants to America, who have both adapted to the “American” Thanksgiving meal while also incorporating elements of their own culture.
Several sources that I have previously mentioned provided valuable insights on the cultural and symbolic meanings of Thanksgiving and the Thanksgiving meal. Jack Santino provided some especially useful insights into the symbolic value of the harvest of Thanksgiving and he argues that Thanksgiving reinforces and reflects specific American values. Santino describes how the bountiful harvest that we give thanks for reflected a sense of America as a new Eden for the colonists of the time, a place of never-ending game and produce. He continues on to discuss the feasts of today, arguing that the Thanksgiving story has become an origin myth for the U.S. Santino also provides some useful insights on how alternative groups have adapted the story to their own use, but with a different message. One such example is the animal rights movement, which has inverted the symbol of the turkey to show the cruelty involved in turkey farming. Santino also notes that some Native Americans in the U.S. hold alternative celebrations on Thanksgiving to emphasize a Native American understanding of the holiday.
In Patriotic Games, Pope connects the symbolic images of Thanksgiving to the values that they represent. He claims that the advertising industry popularized these images of food (turkey, pumpkin pie, the cornucopia) by linking them to ideas of bounty, prosperity and abundance—which are key American tenets. In Moisio's article, "Between Mothers and Markets," the role of homemade food in constructing family identities and values was explored and Moisio provided some valuable insights into the ways that the homemade and the "natural" coincide. The article also gave me some good ideas about how tradition and a sense of the familiar are important concepts in food and family, and these ideas can easily be applied to an analysis of the Thanksgiving tradition.
A few sources provided some information about the turkey industry and the origins of the turkey itself. Both Raymond Sokolov and Grivetti et al described the history of the turkey, including how it got its name and the heritage of the turkeys that we eat today. As Grivetti explains, wild turkeys did in fact originate in North America, however the turkey we eat today is not in fact a descendant of the wild turkeys that existed in North America then. These turkeys were exported to Europe, where they were bred, domesticated and then returned to the Americas.
Government documents and sources that discussed the turkey industry also aided my project. John Fraser Hart's The Changing Scale of American Agriculture was an ideal source in that the book included facts and figures from the turkey industry and also described the logistics of turkey farming. The U.S. Dept. of Agriculture's economic report helped to provide some support for the ways that the turkey industry has grown and become increasingly consolidated.
Daykin, Tom. “Hormel gobbles up Turkey Store for $334 million.” Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Milwaukee, Jan. 24, 2001, 01D.
Elias, Paul. "Building a better turkey through biotech." The Associated Press State and Local Wire: Nov. 24, 2004.
Gabaccia, Donna R. We Are What We Eat: Ethnic Food and the Making of Americans. Harvard University Press: Cambridge, MA, 1998.
Greninger, Edwin T. "Thanksgiving: An American Holiday." Social Science : Vol. 54 no. 1, 1979, 3-15.
Grivetti, Louis E. et al. "Food in American History Part 2: Turkey." Nutrition Today: Vol. 36 no. 2, March/Apr. 2001, 88-96.
Hart, John Fraser. The Changing Scale of American Agriculture. University of Virginia Press: Charlottesville, 2003.
Linton, Ralph and Adelin. We Gather Together: The Story of Thanksgiving. Henry Schuman: New York, 1949.
Meadow, Ron. “An American Feast; the big meal isn’t just for holidays anymore.” Star Tribune: Minneapolis, Nov. 21, 2004, 1AA.
Moisio, Risto et al. Between Mothers and Markets: “Constructing family identity through homemade food.” Journal of Consumer Culture: Vol. 4 no. 3, Nov. 2004, 361-84.
Muir, Diana. “Proclaiming Thanksgiving throughout the Land: From Local to National Holiday.” We Are What We Celebrate: Understanding Holidays and Rituals. Ed. by Etzioni, Amitai and Bloom, Jared. New York University Press: New York, 2004, 194-213.
Ollinger, Michael et al. "Structural Change in U.S. Chicken and turkey." U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, Economic Research: Report No. 787, Sep. 2000.
Nylander, Jane. Our Own Snug Fireside. Alfred A. Knopf: New York, 1994.
Pleck, Elizabeth. “The Making of the Domestic Occasion: The History of Thanksgiving in the United States.” Journal of Social History: Vol. 32 Issue 4, 1999, 773-789.
Pope, S.W. Patriotic Games. Oxford University Press: New York, 1997.
Powell, Jay. “Tops in turkey; state’s turkey industry No.1 despite some hard times.” Star Tribune: Minneapolis, Nov. 25, 2003, 1D.
Santino, Jack. All Around the Year: Holidays and Celebrations in American Life. University of Illinois Press: Urbana, 1994.
Sokolov, Raymond. Why We Eat What We Eat. Summit Books: New York, 1991.
Thompson, Sue Ellen. Holiday Symbols and Customs. Omnigraphics: Detroit, 2003.
Waldbaum, Jane C. “Talking Turkey.” Archaeology: Vol. 57 Issue 6, Nov./Dec. 2004, 4-7.
Wilson, Samuel M. “Pilgrim’s Paradox.” Natural History : Vol. 100 Issue 11, 1991, 22-25.
The Minnesota Turkey Growers Association. “Working Partners for Fifty Years: The History of the Minnesota turkey industry and the MN Turkey GrowersAssociation.” The MTGA: St. Paul, 1989.