A few Thanksgiving observations

I want to wish everyone a happy Thanksgiving and a safe celebration of American Indian Heritage Day, the day after Thanksgiving, a federal holiday created by President George W Bush in 2008.

A quick perusal of peer-reviewed literature related to Thanksgiving finds that:

Historians say the current version of Thanksgiving was created by a journalistic crusader and would have been unrecognizable to the Pilgrims it supposedly honors

President Abraham Lincoln first signed off on Thanksgiving being a federal holiday in 1863, but he did that only after several decades of promotion and editorializing by Sarah Hale, the editor of Godey’s Lady’s Book and Magazing, whose version of Thanksgiving achieved a goal of celebrating the talents of women as nurturers and cooks.

Anne Blue Wills, assistant professor of religion at Davidson College, says Hale became quite wealthy from her magazine. As a result, her collected stories of what people were eating and doing to celebrate the holiday caused it to take on a more commercial tone toward the end of the 19th century.

And when transportation improved from place to place in America, that also led to the current observations that the holiday brings to America the busiest travel days of the year.

NBC News in Dallas declared that yesterday would be the busiest “busiest day for travel” in a dozen years, thanks in part to a healthier economy.

“AAA projects 50.9 million Americans will journey 50 miles or more away from home this Thanksgiving,” the network reported.

Celebrating Thanksgiving dinner causes a larger carbon footprint, but it’s not the worst thing you could do

Unlike Lincoln, President Donald Trump has the carbon footprint of the nation (and world) on his mind. The environmental impact of your Thanksgiving dinner depends on several factors, according to researchers at Carnegie Mellon University:

  • how far people travel to celebrate the holiday
  • the way the meal is cooked (gas versus electric range)
  • the specific state’s predominant power source
  • how the food is produced in each area

For example, less carbon dioxide is emitted by families cooking their turkeys in Maine and Vermont, which rely mostly on renewable energy, than in states, such as Wyoming, West Virginia, and Kentucky, which derive more power from the burning of coal.

“Food production—how the food is grown or raised—and meal preparation—how the food is cooked—both contribute to the carbon footprint,” said Paul Fischbeck, professor of social and decisions sciences, in a press release. “We broke our dinner down into its separate dishes, and then broke those down into the individual ingredients. For each ingredient, we tracked its carbon emissions from ‘farm-to-fork.’ Production and preparation both contribute about 50 pounds of carbon dioxide, but it varies from state to state and house to house.”

The bottom line: while traveling extra for the holiday does increase America’s carbon footprint, Mr Fischbeck called this component of travel-related carbon dioxide “small potatoes” compared to some other lifestyle choices Americans make.

“So, eat in moderation, spend time with your friends and family, and travel safely, he said. “But whatever you do, don’t replace your turkey with roast beef. That could easily double the footprint of your feast.”

Native Americans apparently liked their turkeys big-boned (so they fed them corn) and male (probably at least in part for their feathers)

And speaking of turkey, a report that came out about this time last year from Florida State, published in the Journal of Archaeological Science, found that hundreds of years before the first Thanksgiving, Native Americans were raising and feasting on America’s classic holiday meal.

Associate Professor of Anthropology Tanya Peres and graduate student Kelly Ledford wrote that typical flocks of turkeys have more females than males, for whatever reason. But Native Americans seem to have preferred the males for hunting and harvesting.

“It appears Native Americans were favoring males for their bones for tools,” Ms Peres said. “And they certainly would have favored males for their feathers. They tend to be much brighter and more colorful than the female species. Female feathers tend to be a dull grey or brown to blend in to their surroundings since they have to sit on the nest and protect the chicks.”

That research brings us full circle to Hale’s pre-Lincoln idea that females serve as nurturers, not only for families but for the chicks that become those families’ Thanksgiving dinner.

About the Author

Paul Katula

Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

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