History prof. discusses history of Thanksgiving meals

November 27, 2019

Postdoctoral associate Adrienne Bitar, whose field is history, was featured in TIME Magazine detailing the history of vegetarian opposition to serving turkey on Thanksgiving Day. Bitar specializes in the study of American food and health history and culture. She is the author of "Diets and the Disease of Civilization."

"Today, we think of turkey as central to the Thanksgiving meal," Bitar says. "Some estimates show that 88% of Americans eat turkey on Thanksgiving and the native bird has come to symbolize long-held American culinary tradition. Yet Norman Rockwell’s vision of a peaceful Thanksgiving dinner with the turkey at its center is more myth than fact. Americans have long clashed and battled about the turkey dinner as vegetarians and carnivores fought to instate their own menus. Yet these Thanksgiving fights show us all that making peace and giving thanks is well worth fighting for."

Efforts to create meatless dinners can be traced back to the early 1900s, when vegetarian magazines advertised home-made vegetarian alternatives to the feast, Bitar found. Soon carnivores joined the discussion as well, causing divides over the ethics and gender-based connotations of consuming meat. 

"Whether we choose to eat mock turkey, animal turkey or no turkey at all, Thanksgiving is a day to remember that even the rosiest sheen of tradition can’t hide how hard it is to find common ground," Bitar says. "Abraham Lincoln recognized the value of Thanksgiving during the Civil War precisely to unite a country divided by the horrors of slavery and brutality of war. We never lived in a Norman Rockwell America where we all agreed on politics, let alone Thanksgiving dinner. Even the turkey has long been contentious. Yet the act of thanksgiving itself should remind us that – turkey or no turkey – we can work towards unity and peace, even if unity is hard, and peace is always hard fought."

Read the full article on TIME's website.


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