What the Pilgrims Really Thought About Turkey

James McWilliams, A Revolution in Eating: How the Quest for Food Shaped AmericaThough originally published a few years ago, we thought it appropriate to look again at James McWilliams’s New York Times Op-ed, “They Held Their Noses and Ate.”

As is perhaps evident from the title, what we now recognize as the traditional Thanksgiving dinner did not really establish itself until the mid-nineteenth century. McWilliams writes:

The native American food that the Pilgrims supposedly enjoyed would have offended the palate of any self-respecting English colonist – the colonial minister Charles Woodmason called it “exceedingly filthy and most execrable.” Our comfort food, in short, was the bane of the settlers’ culinary existence.

Even Turkey was frowned down upon as game was far from a staple of the colonists’ diet:

To be sure, the English frequently hunted for their meals. But hunting was preferably a sport. When the English farmer chased game to feed his family, he did so with pangs of shame. To resort to the hunt was, after all, indicative of agricultural failure, poor planning and laziness.

You can read the entire article here and to find out more about James McWilliams’s books: A Revolution in Eating: How the Quest for Food Shaped America and American Pests: The Losing War on Insects from Colonial Times to DDT.

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