US Anthropology Researches Thanksgiving Fare

by Bonni Strong
by Bonni Strong

Traditional food served on Thanksgiving has a really long history. Today, throughout America and in other countries (expats), the holiday has kept up very much with these traditions. Let’s take a look at how they came about and what people ate on November 27, 2014.

Interestingly, a lot of the typical food found at the Thanksgiving table hails from South America and Mexico. Senior Scientist at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, Bruce Smith, explained the reason for this: “Most likely this diffusion happened as a result of trading or other contact among American Indian tribes in this country.”

Wild turkeys were eating at the very first Thanksgiving. It took longer for domesticated ones to make it to the table and they were probably brought from Mexico to Europe and arrived in America via Europeans who settled the colonies.

Again with potatoes it was most likely the Europeans that brought the potatoes to Eastern America when they settled there. They were originally domesticated in South America around 10,000 years ago.

The most common type of squash – the cucurbita pepe – probably underwent two domestications (like the turkey), both in Mexico and eastern America. Some of the more common members of this species include: acorn squash, pattypan squash and spaghetti squash. The jack-o-lantern was the first plant domesticated in the Americas.

More than 8,000 years ago, corn was domesticated in Mexico but only arrived in southwest US around 4,000 years ago. Eastern North America got the crop in around 200 BC. And finally cranberries actually are originally from America, probably from New England. However, their name was most likely given by European settlers – craneberry originally – as the plant looked like a crane. American Indians were the first to use cranberries as food.

So don’t forget the cranberry sauce next Thanksgiving!