Wednesday, December 1, 2021
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The Thanksgiving Meal: How It’s Evolved Over Time

On Thanksgiving, a traditional meal will have turkey, stuffing, green bean casserole, and cranberry sauce.

But how has the traditional meal changed over time? Tennessee Tech History Instructor Laura Smith said that the main difference comes from the creation of convenience foods.

“Which of course we really see in the 50s and 60s is people become much more interested in technology,” Smith said. “I know for us we’re going to be making the green bean casserole, the sweet potato casserole. Casseroles are a big part of Thanksgiving in the south.”

Laura Smith said that while celebrations had been held over the years after the first feast, it was actually President Abraham Lincoln who created the first Thanksgiving as a federal holiday. She said it was in thanks for the Union being able to hold out during the war and as hope for a victory in the war.

Laura Smith said that southern culture has affected what types of food we eat as well. She said that the introduction of southern comfort foods that were high-fat and high calories after the Civil War has brought some of the Thanksgiving staples we think of today.

“And we still have those things because they taste good, they make us feel good,” Laura said. “And that is exactly why we have them at Thanksgiving. I would also say again the casseroles and things like that have a long history, longer than we would think you know from the 50s and 60s, of really using holidays and get-togethers as a way to showcase all of the new technology the U.S. was able to have.”

Associate Professor of History Troy Smith said that the first feast held in Massachusetts had plenty of crops from the pilgrims’ first harvest, including corn, carrots and peas. He said that while there was a fowling expedition sent out prior to the feast, there is not a specific mention of what types of birds were eaten. In addition to those foods, Smith said that there was plenty of seafood present, particularly shellfish.

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