Monday, November 21, 2011

The Thanksgiving Project

Norman Rockwell

This Thursday, many Americans of different religions, ethnicities, and backgrounds will be chowing down on Thanksgiving fare. For some, the Norman Rockwell scene above offers a mirror onto one's own dining table, with turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, and pie taking center stage. But for other Americans, Thanksgiving dinner means tofu instead of turkey. Or rice instead of potatoes. Or Bird's Custard instead of pumpkin pie. And then there are those who forgo the holiday completely, either by choice or necessity.

That's where you come in. The New York Public Library wants to capture your Thanksgiving menu. We want to know what you eat, what you don't eat, and why. 

Woody Allen once said, "Tradition is the illusion of permanence." But traditions, including culinary traditions, shift and morph and evolve. New spouses (or in-laws) add to or change food customs. A bad economy or loss of a job might alter the way a meal is celebrated. And vegetarianism, gluten-free diets, veganism, and an enhanced awareness of where one's food comes from can create a meal that looks quite different from the meal our parents or grandparents ate. And for a holiday as seeped in Americana as Thanksgiving, the food rituals and traditions of our multicultural landscape bring ever new dishes onto the Thanksgiving table. 

For example, in the fascinating paper "Being American: An Arab American Thanksgiving,"* William G. Lockwood and Yvonne R. Lockwood describe the "creolization" of Thanksgiving in the Arab American community in and around Detroit, Michigan.

THANKSGIVING DINNER [held by] ... Digital ID: 476225. New York Public Library
(Hotel North. Augusta, Maine, 1900. NYPL)

One woman interviewed by the Lockwoods, and considered one the best Arab cooks in the community, prepares hashwa (rice with ground meat, almonds, pinenuts, and spices), and yogurt, but also turkey, cranberries, creamed corn, mashed potatoes, and Sara Lee pumpkin pie. Another family serves hummus, baba ghannouj, sliced raw vegetables, flatbreads, Cornish hens stuffed with hashwa, Arab salad (lettuce, tomato, parsley, cucumbers, lemon, mint, and olive oil), and harissa for dessert.

Good wishes for Thanksgiving d... Digital ID: 1588386. New York Public Library
(courtesy of NYPL)

In my own anecdotal survey of Thanksgiving culinary rituals closer to home, similar themes emerge. The turkey might serve as a nod towards the American holiday, while the sides express the family's cultural background. Perhaps kimchee is served alongside the turkey, or biryani.

But the proof, as they say, is in the (corn) pudding. We'd like to hear from you about what you do or don't eat for Thanksgiving. What you grew up eating, but don't eat now. What your mother served, or what your uncle can't eat, or the restaurant that is your Thanksgiving home-away-from-home. Your entries will make up one component of the upcoming lunch exhibition, so please share (and pass this request around like a gravy boat) with friends, co-workers, and family members. But to make it easy, here's a step-by-step process of what to do:

1) Go to NYPL's Thanksgiving Project website.
2) Submit photographs of your Thanksgiving dinner, both past and present OR upload audio of your Thanksgiving dinner (with recipes!) OR write a short story/anecdote about your Thanksgiving culinary traditions OR film the meal and submit the video!
3) Then make sure to come to the New York Public Library next year to see your Thanksgiving meal  reflected in the upcoming Lunch exhibition!

And if you feel compelled to share immediately, don't hold back! Please comment below. And happy Thanksgiving.

*Oxford Symposium on Food and Drink (2001)


Karen said...

My family always served oyster stuffing along with the traditional bread stuffing. My husband's family would never eat that, even though it is very delicious! Also gone from the Thanksgiving table are all jello salads and something we called "mishmash" which is diced fruit, sometimes canned, mixed with cool whip or whipped cream if my mom was feeling fancy. This was served along with the dinner, and not for dessert. I miss the oyster stuffing, not the nasty jello/mishmash dishes. We also had mincemeat pie along with the pumpkin. My husband's family, it's apple, not mincemeat.

Johnny said...

I'm one quarter Syrian-American, and my family is from La Crosse, Wisconsin; we always make hashwa, with turkey giblets, rice, celery, onion, and cinnamon, for Thanksgiving. It's hard to imagine Thanksgiving without it!

mother of the bride suits said...

The turkey seems very delicious, thank you for your post, I like it!