November 29, 2010

American Turkey

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This year during Thanksgiving break I scornfully cast aside my mother’s Thanksgiving issue of Bon Appetite, the magazine whose artful re-hashings of stuffing, mashed potatoes and cranberries normally impresses the unborn cook within me.  Why the sudden loss of interest?  I missed Fourth of July, and was hoping that a nice Thanksgiving turkey would allow me to reflect on what it means to be American. Most Americans would agree that a Thanksgiving turkey, alongside a hotdog, is about as American as foods come. On my drive home from school I could feel the red, white and blue throbbing in my veins.  This year, in what appears to be a pattern, however, the magazine failed to include a recipe that would help me embrace my American identity. My own Thanksgiving dinner was equally disappointing in this regard. In the midst of exquisite culinary ecstasy, I could not taste the rush of patriotism that I normally feel when singing “take me out to the ballgame,” pulling over to use Burger King’s bathroom, or dodging the slurs of anti-capitalist Argentinians with the words “Ché boludo, no entiendo español!”  I returned to school both full and empty.  Perhaps my problem was that I put too much stock in the meal. How could a turkey arouse the patriot within me?  A fellow fraternity brother told me that the turkey presented him with a dilemma akin to my own: “The turkey didn’t make me feel patriotic.  It’s an integral part of the meal, but it was easy to put on the backburner, with all of the gravy, mash potatoes and stuffing. Also, it kept reminding me of titties.” He’s right: there are too many distractions in American society. The dinner table is no place for our clear, nationalistic inner self to emerge.  Certainly football should have done the trick — Americans have played and watched our national pastime on Thanksgiving since the first recorded Thanksgiving Classic ended in a tie in 1902. But lets face it: the Dallas Cowboys and Detroit Lions both stink. I’d rather move to Canada and watch the Thanksgiving Day Classic — a pair of Canadian Football League games held on Canadian Thanksgiving, not to be confused with our Thanksgiving Classic— than watch Tom Brady make it rain. I can at least be thankful that Thanksgiving didn’t arouse a sense of national despair in me that Canadian Thanksgiving arouses in Canadians. A Canadian frat-bro of mine lamented that Canadian Thanksgiving embodied for Canadians “the affirmation of American cultural imperialism and the absence of original traditions.” On a brighter note, he added, “at least our country is not poised to get taken over by the Tea-Party.” Ouch, Canada. Yet further reflection on his words made me realize that although I hadn’t hoped for the American political economic situation to make me feel patriotic, I was glad that I hadn’t. For one thing, going home on Tuesday, I had already read that Black Friday sales were projected to be low, and had adjusted my portfolio to reflect the expectations of the market.  We should be saving and investing in this economic climate, not consuming. Worse, I knew that the very idea of the history and origins of Black Friday must have aroused memories sure to infuriate a tea partier.  Franklin Delano Roosevelt moved the date of Thanksgiving up one week in 1939 to stimulate the economy, effectively extending the holiday shopping season. Of course, government intervention in the economy and at the Thanksgiving dinner table was as unpopular then as it is now. A letter received by Roosevelt opposing the change of date complained: “We need a certain amount of idealism and sentiment to keep up the morale of our people, and you would even take that from us.”  Sent by a representative named Robert Benson, the letter reminded Roosevelt “we are not running a Russia or communistic government.”  My conservative uncle probably repeated the same words on his Turkey day this year about Obama. But Obama’s plate is unfortunately full of communist accusations and FDR comparisons. He can thank the 1941 congress for changing the date back to the original — the last Thursday in November— set by Abraham Lincoln when he declared it an official national holiday in 1863.  This year, government intervention only affected the poor souls whose “junk” was felt and enjoyed by the Transportation Security Administration.Giving thanks for my fellow citizens could have possibly evoked the nationalism that I wanted to feel, but I was unwilling to risk political indigestion.  I could only face my greasy turkey and wonder if the very same bird had elevated the national heartbeat of the pilgrims who ate it on their very first Thanksgiving.  Perhaps it just helped motivate them to go to war with the Native Americans sooner.Maybe it’s “just a family holiday,” maybe we lack a culture of food like that in Italy or France, or maybe I said thank you for all the wrong things, but I hope that next Thanksgiving tastes more like America than this one did.

Original Author: Joey Anderson