Thanksgiving is a cherished American tradition — rich in calories, lore, and long-held myths. While families gather around the table to give thanks for good food, family, and friends, we should also give thanks to intrepid researchers and foodies who have worked tirelessly to dispel the most common Thanksgiving myths:
Eating turkey makes you sleepy.
The most common fallacy is that drowsiness is caused by the tryptophan (an amino acid that is a precursor to serotonin, a calming agent that is critical to sleep) contained in turkey. For tryptophan to be truly effective as a soporific agent, an individual would have to digest it with an empty stomach (so as not to compete with other less-bulky amino acids) and digest a large quantity of it (there is more tryptophan in chicken breast and cheese). The real reason people start nodding off on the couch after the traditional thanksgiving dinner is because the meal is not only bountiful, it is also loaded with fat and calories; in short, it’s like eating 3 to 4 meals in one sitting. To digest this massive intake of food, the body directs blood away from other organs and the central nervous system and directs it to the digestive system. Moreover, most people enjoy a few glasses of wine with dinner. Alcohol only amplifies the sleepy state since it contains alcohol, a depressant, that produces a potent sedative effect. Of course, an additional cause of sleepiness is boring dinner conversation from eccentric relatives you barely know — or don’t want to know.
Pilgrims celebrated Thanksgiving at the end of November
The first Thanksgiving held at Plymouth, Massachusetts, was a traditional English harvest celebration in the fall (mid September to late October) of 1621, a 3-day event commemorating the colony’s first successful harvest.
The Pilgrims ate turkey, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, and pumpkin pie.
Although there are no records that specifically state what the Pilgrims and Wamapanoag ate at the first harvest festival (often recognized as the first Thanksgiving), historians turn to two primary sources to surmise what the Pilgrims really ate. English leader Edward Winslow wrote to a friend in England in December of 1621: “Our harvest being gotten in, our governor sent four men on fowling, that so we might after a special manner rejoice together after we had gathered the fruit of our labors. They four in one day killed as much fowl as, with a little help beside, served the company almost a week. At which time, amongst other recreations, we exercised our arms, many of the Indians coming amongst us, and among the rest their greatest king Massasoit, with some ninety men, whom for three days we entertained and feasted, and they went out and killed five deer, which they brought to the plantation and bestowed on our governor, and upon the captain and others.” Governor William Bradford provides additional clues in his journal, History of Plymouth Plantation, written between 1630-51: “And besides waterfowl there was great store of wild turkeys, of which they took many, besides venison, etc. Besides, they had about a peck a meal a week to a person, or now since harvest, Indian corn to that proportion.” Kathleen Wall, a culinarian at the Plimoth Plantation, concludes that the first Thanksgiving meal consisted of turf and surf: wildfowl, venison, swan and passenger pigeons, eels, shellfish (clams, mussels, and lobster), bread (made from maize) and porridge. While larger birds were boiled, the smaller birds were spit-roasted to retain their flavor. Birds were stuffed with onions and herbed or shelled chestnuts.
So if the Pilgrims did not eat what is now considered traditional Thanksgiving food, where did this food come from? For that, we owe thanks to Sarah Josepha Hale (1788-1879), best known as the author of “Mary Had a Little Lamb, who was a schoolteacher and later an influential writer and editor. Indeed, Hale was the Martha Stewart of her time. As a respected arbiter of culture, she introduced the distinctive delicious foods that instantly evoke Thanksgiving (stuffed turkey, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, and pumpkin pie) in her editorials that appeared in Godley’s Lady’s Book beginning in 1846. Hale, through her articles and letters to presidents over a 17-year period, is credited for making Thanksgiving a national holiday (1863).
In 2013, the American Farm Bureau Federation estimates that Americans will purchase more than 46 million turkeys. The cost of the average Thanksgiving dinner for 10 people will average $49. The average turkey costs about $1 a pound; however premier brand turkeys can costs up to $13 a pound.
For further reading: smithsonianmag.com/history-archaeology/Ask-an-Expert-What-was-on-the-menu-at-the-first-Thanksgiving.html