I saw this article written by Extension Educator Mary Liz Wright for the Live Well, Eat Well Blog, and I thought it was so interesting to see how our traditional holiday meal has changed over the years. Mary Liz says: Gluten-free, low sugar, no fat—doesn’t that sound like a yummy Thanksgiving dinner? We could be describing a trend in modern dieting, however, what we are talking about is the first Thanksgiving.
When coloring hand-traced turkeys and making paper bag vests in elementary school we learned that the Pilgrims and Native Americans gathered for a feast when their harvest was complete. We pictured the long tables laden with foods familiar to us—turkey, potatoes, pumpkin pie…but in reality, their feast was quite different. There was no turkey, no mashed potatoes, no stuffing. The Pilgrims had long since used up their supply of flour so their feast was devoid of all bread products and hence gluten-free.
As for the pumpkin pie, no dairy or eggs or flour for the crust—they sufficed with boiled or dried pumpkin; a delicacy in the native world. Fish and wild game were plentiful in the region and records indicate that the Wampanoag brought five deer to the feast. Waterfowl were also a big part of both the Pilgrim and Native people’s diets and there was surely a great many ducks and geese roasted over the fire and offered as a savory part of the feast. Sugar was a foreign substance to the Wampanoag people; however, they would occasionally find a store of honey left by bees and use it to sweeten their staple corn soup, or nasaump as they called it. They could have also had a variety of wild grapes or berries dried from the spring season. So different from our modern-day feast!
The classic American menu; turkey, stuffing and all the trimmings will quickly add up to a whopping 2123 calories with 70.8 grams of fat and 3784 mg of sodium or more, some accounts list 4000 calories! How does that compare with the original feast? If we assume our early ancestors ate 3.5-ounce servings of meat and ½ cup servings of fruits and vegetables we can calculate their feast at just under 700 calories with less than 10 g fat and very little sodium. So, in essence, we have taken a fairly healthy meal and turned it into a nutrition nightmare. It would benefit us to be more like the Wampanoag and the Pilgrims.
Another thing they did was to play games after the feast. Records indicate that they stayed together for 3 days feasting and enjoying friendly competitions with running races and other games of the times. I am not saying that we should not enjoy our traditional holiday, I certainly plan to gather with family and share those dishes special to us. But I will try to convince my family to take a walk after dinner! Happy Thanksgiving to all!
Cheri Burcham is responsible for family life programming in the counties of Coles, Cumberland, Douglas, Moultrie, Shelby and other parts of east central Illinois as needed. Cheri’s emphasis is on healthy lifestyles throughout the life span which include family relationships, communication, caregiving, stress management and human development including early childhood and healthy aging. Her passion is to help people to be their best selves and to promote a healthier, independent older population.