Enough a'ready with the Tofurkey!

I don't mean to be churlish, but why do vegetarians, and vegans, try to make their food look and taste like meat if they abhor meat? That would be like me saying I hate the idea of eating small children, and then molding my food to look like babies.

Okay, Thanksgiving is not a big deal at our house. My family's all in San Diego, my wife's an only child, her parents succumbing to life years ago, so we usually find a restaurant open on this holiday.

We're not fans of the traditional turkey, mashed potatoes, etc. We've fallen in love with Italian, Greek, Thai and Mexican flavors, and frankly, turkey, not to mention tofurkey, is boring. Cook the turkey in a cacciatore style, or maybe a North African lamb sauce, and you have our undivided attention.

It's not even clear that there was turkey on the table for that first Thanksgiving in 1621, when the pilgrims sat down with the Wapanoag Indians. It seems more likely from accounts that they ate venison, and perhaps some duck and goose, all of which sound better to me.

They certainly didn't have pumpkin pie, cranberry sauce or mashed potatoes and gravy. Back in those days, vegetables played a much smaller role in the meal than today, so chances are it was mostly a meat-and-bread affair.

Although historians differ on exactly what may have been on that first table, they agree it bore little resemblance to the feasts that put people to sleep today, and they ate with spoons, knives and their hands. I guess that hasn't changed much.

I wonder also about the invitation to the Native Americans. I can imagine that it was the wife's idea, and the husband was less than excited by her initiative, not unlike inviting the in-laws of today. The conversation may have gone something like this:

"Elmer. I've invited Massasoit and his people to dinner for Thanksgiving. You'll need to go out and shoot some extra fowl, and perhaps a deer."

"Why did you do that, Matilda?" Elmer puts down his whittling and rises resignedly from his tree stump. "It's going to be noisy - kids running everywhere, and then there's all the cleanup you have to do afterward."

"These are good people, Elmer. They helped us get through our first hard winter, and we may have perished without their help."

"Yeah, OK. But it's bear mating season and I was planning on going into the woods to catch some of the action. But, I'm not going to miss the axe-throwing contest at 4 this afternoon. John is coming by, so you tell ol' Massasoit they have to clear out by then."

Maybe that's not historically accurate, but it does seem that these big get-togethers engender more grumbling than merrymaking. Yetwe persist in the notion that somehow this will bring the family closer together, and I guess that's a good thing.

That first feast, lasting three days, and without the benefit of TV football, wasn't a holiday, but a gathering to celebrate the harvest that has gone on all over the world for most of recorded history.

That first feast was also not repeated until 1676 when some Massachusetts politicians decided (don't they always) to proclaim an official day of thanksgiving, choosing June 29 for some unknown reason. It was 100 years later that the 13 Colonies joined in the celebration.

George Washington proclaimed it a national day in 1789, with every president after Lincoln making that proclamation. The date changed several times, with the last change being made by Franklin Roosevelt, setting it on the next-to-the-last Thursday of November in order to create - what else? - a longer Christmas shopping season.

So here we are, nearly 400 years after that first small-t thanksgiving, stuffing our turkeys, and ourselves, probably giving little thought to the harvest, or the migrant labor that harvested all those yams and potatoes, and who will probably spend their Thanksgiving eating tortillas in some clapboard shack at the edge of a corporate farm.

With our world totally screwed up, the occupation of Iraq failing by most accounts, and both sectarian and political fighting the world over, it's difficult to find much to celebrate.

But, at times like this we seem to have the capacity to set aside our differences, family, cultural, religious or otherwise, and for a day or two we celebrate our affluence by setting a table full of food, and sharing it with family and friends.

Would that we could maintain that solicitousness throughout the year rather than just for a day or two - we'd live in a much happier world. Perhaps, like our forefathers, we should invite some neighbors to dinner - Mexicans, Muslims or any other group with whom we need to build some bridges.

Just don't serve them tofurkey.

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