Getting Back to the Essence of Thanksgiving

I feel compelled to write this post because Thanksgiving is around the corner, and it is both a beloved and miserable holiday for me. Beloved, because of the history involved, the nostalgia, the feeling of fellowship, and yes, the vacation from work or school. Miserable because of the horrible traffic, the hours of work required for preparation of a meal that disappears in less than 15 minutes, and the substantial gluttony. As a dietitian, I am shunned from November until mid-January when all of the New Year’s resolutions are made and people are feeling the side effects of their gluttony. I don’t use this term loosely, but I chose it specifically because it is what I witness and it is what is often described as someone grievously explains and rationalizes their weight gain during the holiday months. The weight gain is completely preventable folks.

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I am here to say, bluntly, to Americans, “Stop making Thanksgiving (and like-holidays) all about the food!” Let’s get back to the root of Thanksgiving and do as our ancestors did. Let’s come together in friendship and good faith, and celebrate. Lord knows, doesn’t the country need this right now after the tumultuous aftermath of the presidential election? The New England settlers and the Native American allies celebrated for several days after a bountiful corn harvest, because the settlers WOULD NOT HAVE SURVIVED if it wasn’t for the efforts of the Native Americans to teach them how to survive in a harsh environment with infection running rampant throughout the settlement. Therefore, I say, focus on the celebration of life and enjoyment of being with friends, family, loved ones, and companions, instead of how many different types of desserts you are going to try next Thursday.  

Getting back to the roots doesn’t just refer to the meaningbehind Thanksgiving, but also the food that is served. If we truly were traditional and celebrated with the same or even similar culinary dishes that the Pilgrims and Native Americans had, maybe there would be less stuffing (no pun intended) of faces and opened pant buttons to allow for more room. The first banquet, that we now call Thanksgiving, certainly had wild fowl for protein (smaller birds such as ducks geese and pigeons), as well as deer (venison). Other proteins included smoked mollusks and roasted nuts. Their meats weren’t stuffed with our type of “dressing” that uses bread of some type, but rather with seasonings,nuts and perhaps fruits and vegetables. Corn was a staple (Flint corn that is multi-colored),  and it was ground and made into a simple porridge (no milk or cream or butter or frying into cornbread)- I bet there are few people that would eat plain mush made from cornmeal. There were vegetables – boiled or roasted – like beans, pumpkin, carrots, turnips and squash that were not slathered in butter or canned gravy. You can assume that they did not have an issue getting fiber! 

No doubt that the settlers and Native Americans alike enjoyed this feast – my point is not to suggest that we don’t enjoy the meal. My message is that we can celebrate the holiday in a more traditional and historically accurate fashion, in order to nourish ourselves both mentally and physically. Let’s keep it simple – good, wholesome food served in a reasonable amount, celebrating each other and the things we can be thankful for. Yes, it sounds cheesy, and I know that everyone looks forward to some relative’s pecan or pumpkin pie every year. But if you are one of the millions of Americans who struggles with your weight OR the stress and depression around the holidays, you might want to consider this. All the trimmings, all the heavy starches and desserts, the huge portions, the grazing, the drinking, etc. – these things do not really make us happy and feel good about ourselves. They are not what it’s about. Now go start actually enjoying the holiday. 

If you want to read more on what was most likely served at the first Thanksgiving, here are two articles: 

Smithsonian: What Was on the Menu at the First Thanksgiving? 

History.com: The First Thanksgiving Meal