Thursday, November 27, 2008

A Meal Fit For A Pilgrim

Most of us will be sitting down to a Thanksgiving meal this week, but have you ever wondered how our traditional Thanksgiving meal stacks up against what was eaten at the first Thanksgiving? You might be surprised and it might sound a little extreme-- even in a day and age when we have extreme eating on the cable sports network.

Our national Thanksgiving holiday has its roots in the 1621 fall feast that took place between the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag Native Americans in celebration of the colony’s first successful harvest. It was no small event, either. In fact, there are accounts that this first feast included all the Pilgrims, ninety of the Wampanoag, and it went on for three days.

But what was on the menu? Historians are not completely sure what was on the menu beyond venison and wild fowl. One thing they are sure of, however, is that it was not the sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie, mashed potatoes, dressing, and all the trimmings that usually accompany our modern day repast. Instead, the first Thanksgiving meal probably included venison, ducks, geese, swans, and wild turkey as well as maybe seal, lobster, eel, fish and crabs—and maybe some corn and wheat.

Vegetables probably didn’t make the menu, though, because vegetables weren’t big in the 17th century and for the Pilgrims, it would also have depended on what vegetables were in season. When vegetables were in season, however, they may have had beans, onions, carrots, and peas—although this is not confirmed.

They probably didn’t have much in the way of sweets, either. They brought some sugar with them on the Mayflower, but the supply had diminished by the time of their first Thanksgiving meal, so sweets would not have been included. (Besides, the pilgrims didn’t have ovens, either, so pies, cakes, and bread were not on the menu.)

So much for that pumpkin pie…

What they did have, surprisingly, was a lot of spices in their food—not bland food like many might imagine. They used herbs, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, pepper, and dried fruit in their wares.

In short, their Thanksgiving meal was high in meat dishes—which offered great sources of healthy protein and fats and was low in carbs, including sugars. They probably could have used a few more vegetables, but, times being what they were, that was not the case.

Nowadays, however, our Thanksgiving meals are usually high in carbs and unhealthy fats and can also pack in between 2,000 to 3,000 calories for just that one meal-- which is more calories than most people should have for an entire day. Now that’s what I would call extreme eating.

And while I am not advocating adding seal or even fish to your holiday menu, maybe this Thanksgiving dinner we can take a hint from the Pilgrims and eat more of the healthy proteins and fats (yes, fats) and scale back on the carbs and sugars.

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