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What's Wrong With This Picture?

Sep 5, 2007
Go into any elementary classroom on the fourth week of November and you will see the same set of pictures and images. Amid the desks and crayons you will find turkeys made out of hand prints, Pilgrim statues with the round faced white people in buckled hats and shoes who are plump and smiling, and pictures of Native Americans, the plump pilgrims and their children sitting at a feast table covered in food and vegetables. What's wrong with this picture? Historically, everything.

A Meal of Meat

The first inaccuracy among our long-standing Thanksgiving tradition is the meal itself. As seen in art wprls and re-created in homes across the country traditional Thanksgiving meals involve turkey, corn, vegetables, bread and dessert. However, the pilgrims in 1621 when the actual meal took place were largely meat eaters who had very few vegetables as part of their diet and did not serve them during harvest season when they were scarce. While turkey is our cultural meat of choice, historians say the actual Thanksgiving meal probably included: duck, goose, swans, seal, rabbit and lobster. Corn was a mainstay of the diet of the Puritans living in the New World however with little flower or sugar, bread and dessert were not.

No variety

Eating habits in the 17th century were much different than they are in America today. While it is customary for us to pass food around the table or have every person put a little of everything on their plate, the pilgrims simply didn't eat like that. The fashion of eating at the time was that each person was seated by their social status. Servants put the better meats or foods closer to the people of high status and then filled the rest of the table with the other cooked items. People reached for and ate whatever was closest to them and were not accustomed to reaching across the table to add a new delicacy to their plate. Other than occasional knife used for separating meat from the bone, Pilgrims ate with their fingers and sometimes spoons using their napkins to both wipe their hands and pick up food. Try that at your next Thanksgiving dinner and see what happens!

No kids

The Puritans also had a different set of customs involving their children. We often think of the old tradition, "children should be seen and not heard." However for Puritans in the 17th-century the quote might have been, "children should not eat and should serve." The tradition for eating in that time was for husbands to sit at the table followed by their wives and adult guests. Servants and children stood by the table to help with the meal and bring more the heated food to the guests. Children and servants ate after the adults had left the meal area and ate leftovers from the main meal. Historians have also called into doubt whether Native Americans actually ate with the pilgrims considering their form and habits of eating were much different.

Fortunately, the power of Thanksgiving isn't whether or not we are being accurate to the 17th-century but whether or not we remember that all the things we have are blessings and no matter what they are or how eat them we should be truly thankful.
About the Author
James Brown writes about Kitchen Collection discounts, Cooking.com coupon codes and Chef's Corner coupon codes
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