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This Thanksgiving, forget about the food

Media Contact

Jeff Tyson

Adrienne Rose Johnson

Adrienne Rose Johnson

Postdoctoral Associate

Historian Adrienne Rose Johnson specializes in the history and culture of American food, but this Thanksgiving, she says, forget about the feast and remember our history of giving thanks.

Johnson says: 

“In the bleakest, ugliest depths of the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln proclaimed Thanksgiving a national holiday to commemorate the ‘blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies.’ Americans too easily ‘forget the source from which they come,’ Lincoln said, and asked that Thanksgiving be a time when peace, lawfulness, and harmony were ‘solemnly, reverently, and gratefully acknowledged.’ The cruelties of war demanded reverence; the extraordinary, undeserved blessings of life demanded thanksgiving.

“‘Turkey Day’ remembers little of this history.  Lincoln didn’t care about the food and perhaps we shouldn’t either.  In the last thirty years, ‘Turkey Day’ has substituted thanks for a fowl. The food renaissance — turducken or truffle pudding — has both generated enormous creativity, recovered culinary traditions, and shifted the focus of Thanksgiving to the feast.

“True, a good home-cooked meal with family is a treat. And even more true, the menu makes sense: wild turkeys are native to North America, Native Americans developed maize agriculture, and pumpkins spread from Mexico to North American through trade and migration over 3000 years ago.

“But it’s misguided to celebrate the turkey more than the thanks. We have Americans eating turkey in their MREs and at mess halls in the Middle East. So instead of wishing each other a happy ‘Turkey Day,’ let’s remember ‘Thanksgiving:’ an opportunity to give thanks for the joys of a feast that continues, unabated, despite all the ‘lamentable civil strife’ and aggression, to borrow Lincoln’s words. And to remember how joy and togetherness are also bound to our long, challenging history.”

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