Turkey: True American Cuisine

6 Jun

Ah, the quintessential oven roasted turkey dinner that we, as Americans, call Thanksgiving dinner.  Though accompanied by seasonal vegetables and other classic American dishes like mashed potatoes, turkey plays the central role in the American celebration.  American cuisine is often times misunderstood in that the U.S.’s highly diverse population of immigrants have contributed to an endlessly diverse cuisine in the country, making the act of pinpointing truly American cuisine quite difficult.  Turkey, on the other hand, has a unique presence among American cuisine seeing as how the bird is native to the Americas and is tied to the nation’s oldest accounts of civilization.  Popularized by its presence in the notable Pilgrim feast of the early 17th century, a feast that was organized to give thanks to God for helping the pilgrims of Plymouth Colony survive their first brutal winter in the new land.  Despite its connections to the earliest instances of the American nation, the turkey’s role as a national food in the U.S. is also made legitimate by the fact that it is the face of a holiday created by one of the U.S.’s most important leaders, Abraham Lincoln.  Perhaps the most nationalistic feature of the turkey is the way in which it is eaten and enjoyed.  Family comes together to share, spend time with each other and give thanks to God (a more modern interpretation would be thanks to the nation) for feeding our brethren and keeping us healthy.  Family values are a staple of American popular culture, so acting as the centerpiece to one of the most family oriented times of year in the U.S. undoubtedly aids in the turkey’s role as a national food.  So while Americans eat much more beef than turkey, it’s central role in the nation’s most representative holiday and its ability to mobilize and strengthen family values in the U.S. makes it a nationally freighted food.

Photograph of President Truman receiving a Thanksgiving turkey from members of the Poultry and Egg National Board and other representatives of the turkey industry, outside the White House

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