Some years ago, I wrote a piece on the so-called “turducken,” the culinary abomination that shares its theme music with the Frankenstein movies, and received the following note from my pal Geoffrey Cain, who opined: “If you are going to write about the turducken, you should remember to mention the Brazilian turdukenaconda. A duck is force fed to a chicken which is force fed to a turkey which is then fed to an anaconda. There is enough time between stages that the digestive enzymes in each dispose of the feathers of the previous. It tastes surprisingly like an extremely tenderized boiled shoe. Now before you sit in judgment and declare one recipe disgusting over another, I challenge you to search YouTube for Indonesia’s Christmas Orangupardalo recipe.”
Please know that Cain is a notorious (but dependable) fabulist.
For this I give thanks. In the very least, the above paragraph is sufficiently graphic to put one off the notion of trans-species dining, at least when represented in a single course (I once had a hamburger topped with a slice of fois gras, which I ate with full acceptance that I’m going to hell). Anyway, my research on the turducken somehow led to a narrative of brotherly-love that is said to have defined the first Thanksgiving, as follows:
Suffice it to say, the story of how our nation went from a Native American named Tisquantum (a.k.a “Squanto,” who endured repeated kidnappings and prolonged visits to England before throwing a bone to a separatist religious sect in Plymouth) to the GIANT BLUE SMURF looming over the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, is a murky one.
I began to ruminate on how Native Americans perceive the holiday, or, I suppose, the 1/32 of Cherokee in me began wondering. I discovered an egregiously racist report from the New York Times circa 1901, in which it’s observed that, “The white people find no more enjoyment in this day of universal good cheer than do these same dusky redskins.” Mentions of “savages” and similarly derogatory comments are peppered throughout the patronizing essay. On the other side of the spectrum – and century – is a document titled, “Teaching About Thanksgiving,” which was “Overseen by Dr. Frank B. Brouillet, superintendent of Public Instruction for the state of Washington” (and, to digress, reminds that D.C.’s football team, the Washington Redskins, is one of several professional sports organizations that use Native Americans as mascots – the Cleveland Indians, Atlanta Braves, Kansas City Chiefs remain among them).
“The Puritan ‘Pilgrims’ who came to New England were not simply refugees who decided to ‘put their fate in God’s hands’ in the ‘empty wilderness’ of North America, as a generation of Hollywood movies taught us,” wrote Chuck Larsen of the Tacoma Public Schools in his introduction to Teaching About Thanksgiving. “In any culture at any time, settlers on a frontier are most often outcasts and fugitives who, in some way or other, do not fit into the mainstream of their society.”
Later, when describing the tribe that interfaced with the pilgrims, Larsen writes: “The Wampanoag Indians were not the ‘friendly savages’ some of us were told about when we were in the primary grades. Nor were they invited out of the goodness of the Pilgrims’ hearts to share the fruits of the Pilgrims’ harvest in a demonstration of Christian charity and interracial brotherhood.” With all the contentiousness about the facts of Thanksgiving, perhaps we should concentrate on the “truths” that have evolved over the past few centuries. Gratitude is paramount, fraternity is a worthy aspiration and a giant Smurf floating down Fifth Avenue is no more absurd than the stories we choose to believe when striving for togetherness.