24 November 2011

Thanksgiving - What will it look like in the future?

While the American holiday of Thanksgiving has been celebrated from Colonial times, it wasn’t until the American Civil War that President Abraham Lincoln decreed it would be each year in November. When the first European settlers landed in the New World in Massachusetts Bay, they stayed in their ship for the winter – where they suffered from exposure, scurvy and disease. Scurvy is caused by a lack of Vitamin C, and British sailors would be given limes in later years – hence the term “limey” to refer to a British navy man.

Or, alternatively, to a really scary British father looking for his daughter's killer, but I digress...

According to many, the first Thanksgiving festival was held in 1621 as decreed by the Governor, William Bradford. The festival lasted for three days and is a fall harvest festival. Alternatively, some have argued that the festival in 1621 was not the first Thanksgiving on American soil, but that Spanish explorer Pedro Menéndez de Avilé held the first such festival on American soil.

(Pedro Menéndez de Avilé)

Others say it was in December of 1619. Native American peoples object to the celebration and portrayal of the holiday, saying that it glosses over the violence and bloodshed between the European settlers and the indigenous population already living here.

Regardless of the exact lineage of the holiday in America, it is certainly true that Harvest Festivals have occurred since ancient times. While many of the trappings of ancient celebrations have not survived to present day, gathering around a family table with our loved ones to celebrate with a large meal is something likely to continue. How might it look in a hundred years?

Assuming we don’t suffer an environmental cataclysm, it’s probably safe to say we will have turkeys. I think, though, that due to the rising population of people of Mexican descent, we will probably have other dishes incorporated into the traditional fare. Perhaps Turkey with Molé Sauce (composed of chocolate and chili and spices) will be on the traditional table of the future. It is probable that other sources of protein will become more popular, particularly as populations rise; soy is a viable and sustainable alternative for protein. Tofurky is a brand of today; will we have Tofurkey on the traditional table of the future? (My husband shouts “No!” in a resounding voice, but people a hundred years from now will see food differently and might not be as stuck on having meat at every meal.)

Mashed potatoes are a stable item in traditional Thanksgiving meals, but the starch place on the table is taken up by bananas in a large portion of the world (over 50% of the population of the earth consider the banana to be a staple food). In the U.S., the common “banana” is the Cavendish variety, and these trees have suffered a cataclysmic blight and may well be extinct in the next ten years. This will lead the American consumer to have to select a different banana from the over 500 types available – and it’s possible that one might “take off” as the next starch in our diet. Plantains instead of mashed potatoes might grace the table of the future.

How will we prepare the meal of the future? As fossil fuel prices continue to rise and reserves to fall, it’s probable that what we take for granted in terms of transportation today (trucks and trains, ocean liners and air freight) will not look that way in the future. As the localvore movement expands (placing a strong focus on foods purchased from local farmers), regionalization of the Thanksgiving menu is likely to occur. Rather than the homogenization of the menu, we might have regional favorites – beef in the upper Midwest, fish on the coasts, etc.

One thing uniquely American is the pumpkin. Found in the New World by the settlers, it’s become ubiquitous and a symbol of Thanksgiving and of Autumn (who has seen Starbucks’ Pumpkin Spice Latté?), and as such it’s likely to continue. But with rising obesity rates in the American population, will we continue to indulge in pie?

I hope, since I love pumpkin pie, that we don’t take it off the table but instead change how we relate to the dinner itself. Rather than settle on the couch afterward to watch a football game, what if we started a tradition of walking? Perhaps the Thanksgiving of the future will have elements more like the “Trick or Treat” of Halloween where folks wander from house to house, sharing a beverage and conversation.

There’s another angle we haven’t considered yet, and that’s whether or not we’ll even be ON this planet in a hundred years. Richard Branson is hard at work, developing his in-space hotel, and President Obama has spoken of revitalizing the space program and missions to the moon, Mars, and the International Space station. It’s entirely probable that humans will be in space in a hundred years, so our Thanksgiving meals might be in small packets to avoid mucking up the zero-gravity space we’re living in. Vegetables might be raised in hydroponics on a space station or even a Moon colony. Your turkey might even come from a farm on the Sea of Tranquility (the site of the first moon landing in 1969).

Whatever the tradition, I think some form of celebration of the harvest will continue long into the future. I hope that you have your own traditions and, if not, that you decide this year to start them. After all, “First Annual” is a perfectly fine title for a tradition that could have a long, long lineage.

May you have much to be thankful for and always remember to be grateful.


History .com, “Thanksgiving” A&E Television Networks, 1996-2011, http://www.history.com/topics/thanksgiving/ Accessed 11/21/2011

Crosta, Peter, “What Is Scurvy? What Causes Scurvy?” MNT (Medical News Today),
http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/155758.php Accessed 11/21/2011
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