Tomorrow is the day for America’s Thanksgiving Day celebration. The history of our country and its settlement are widely taught in public schools and institutions of learning from the time that we are small. Images of Pilgrims in large buckled hats and shoes breaking bread with the Native Americans, Indians as some like to call them, are plastered in school books, on products, and by media experts as a way of ingraining this lesson into our culture and to get us to consume massive amounts of food, all in memory of that first Thanksgiving meal. But let’s stop for a moment and take a look at what the Pilgrims actually DID eat.
In the time of the Pilgrims, there were not a lot of grocery stores around. In fact, NONE! As a result, the first Thanksgiving dinner was largely comprised of foods that were found in their immediate surroundings. This probably included meat but turkey was not originally on the menu. More than likely, roasted venison, duck, or goose would be the main course as well as seafood choices such as lobster, clams, and mussels. Chestnuts, walnuts, pumpkins, and squash round out the top ten items on the original Thanksgiving menu. Oddly, corn was also an unlikely choice since, at this time of year, most corn was either dried or turned into cornmeal that could withstand the cold winter months. Cranberries are also an unlikely dish, as they suffer the same fate as corn when exposed to the harsh elements of early winter.
I have heard many arguments for not eating turkey on Thanksgiving. Most of them come from vegans or vegetarians whose sole purpose in life is to ruin eating meat for the rest of us. (Just Kidding!) There are many good reasons for going vegetarian; eating lean proteins that are found in vegetables and legumes is easier on the digestive system; many alternative products, such as To-Furkey, Chick-ettes, Zoodles, and Cauliflower Rice, can be made to mimic actual dishes that contain meat or animal byproducts like milk and butter. For those with Celiac disease and other food sensitivities, these are wonderful options that allow them more variety in their diet. As a matter of fact, if all Americans ate vegetarian one day a week, it would be the equivalent of taking 5 Million cars and trucks off the road. For this reason if no other, I try to eat vegetarian options a few meals every week. This, combined with concerns over the unethical treatment of animals raised solely for food, is enough to turn the most stolid stomach!
But the pilgrims were living in harsh conditions; many of the original settlers died that first winter in America because of cold temperatures, disease, and a lack of preserved foods. In case you didn’t know, turkeys are not indigenous to Europe and it wouldn’t be until after they were imported that they took on a role in the diets of those outside the Americas. This is where the Indians came in; they taught their new neighbors how to hunt for local game, how to preserve unfamiliar fruits and vegetables for use in the winter, and how to find fresh water and fuel that could be used to warm their houses. (cow patties make an excellent fire starter and be can be dried and kept for the winter months) While we are celebrating those first settlers and their bravery and spirit of adventure, we ought to also be celebrating those who are Native to this country and who continue to be oppressed and disregarded to this day. If not for them, our pasty white ancestors would have certainly starved to death as a result of their own lack of knowledge and downright foolishness!
Whichever way you roll, that main purpose of the meal is to share with our loved ones what we are thankful for, including them. I know that the practice of sharing your gratitude is losing popularity, but I will, this year as always, be forcing my family to take a moment to recognize how fortunate we all are to have each other, our health, and our abundance. So many people in the world will go hungry again tomorrow while we are all stuffing our faces and falling asleep in front of football. When you are enjoying this splendor, take a moment to think about how you can make a difference to those in your community who are not so lucky! Donating your time can be as easy as donating your money and often, there is a larger reward awaiting you in the end. Karma pays off in kindness just as easily as it does in smacked knuckles! Stock your Karma bank with loving care and you will receive it in return.
To those who are eating To-Furkey tomorrow, chow on! You are stronger than I! I will be sitting down with my family around a non-traditional meal of stuffed bird and all the trimmings. And I will be grateful that, once again, those I know and love will join me. May you be equally blessed, and may you never take this gift for granted!