Every year about this time, I’m amazed at what is about to take place: Almost everyone single person in this country will sit down and eat what is essentially the same meal on the same day. Hundreds of millions of us.
It’s called Thanksgiving. And while our species has held harvest celebrations since the dawn of time, no one does it quite like we do.
Peek in any window, travel from sea to shining sea, and you will find people feasting on turkey, stuffing, cranberries and pumpkin pie, with a few variations here and there. According to the National Turkey Federation, 88 percent of Americans have turkey on Thanksgiving Day.
Forget a menu, we don’t need one.
This celebration is as American as, well, pumpkin pie. Even though I would sometimes prefer veal parmigiana or moo shu pork, it seems downright unpatriotic to even consider.
American ingenuity being what it is, however, there are pumpkin pie Pop Tarts, Lays turkey potato chips and roasted turkey Doritos available for your dining pleasure.
The irony of our Thanksgiving menu is that it bears little resemblance to what was on the table at the first Thanksgiving in 1621. First, there was no turkey. Historians say venison was a major ingredient (thoughtfully brought by our Indian guests) as well as fowl, but that likely included pheasants, geese, and duck.
Cranberries and currants would have been growing wild in the area but there’s no record of them having been served. In fact, the meal was probably a carnivore’s dream.
Shellfish and eel were common, so they probably played a part, as did beans, pumpkins, squashes, and corn (served in the form of bread or porridge).
But there were no potatoes, bread stuffing, pie or Aunt Ruth’s green bean casserole.
I’ll give the nod to the modern menu.
Thanksgiving is a time legendary for over-eating. So while you’re reaching for that second helping, here are a few things to consider.
According to a study by the New England Journal of Medicine, obesity can spread from person to person, much like a virus. When one person gains weight, close friends tend to gain weight, too.
The researchers reported that people were most likely to become obese when a friend became obese. That increased a person's chances of becoming obese by 57 percent.\
It did not even matter if the friend was hundreds of miles away, the influence remained. And the greatest influence of all was between close mutual friends. There, if one became obese, the other had a 171 percent increased chance of becoming obese, too.
Save a friend. Pass on the mashed potatoes.
Then there’s this: By the time we get to Christmas, we're in capitulation mode. Any thoughts of dietary sanity are postponed until after Jan. 1. After all, isn't that why we have New Year's resolutions?
I did read one helpful hint about how to survive holiday feasting:
Simply tie a piece of string around your waist before the meal - under your clothes. It shouldn't be too tight. You should be able to get a fist between it and you. When it starts to draw blood, you should probably stop eating.
Now, as you stagger away from the table, legs buckled, eyelids heavy, to digest your meal, here are a few Thanksgiving facts to wake you from your somnambulant state collected from various Internet sites.
--- In 1953, someone at Swanson misjudged the number of frozen turkeys it would sell that Thanksgiving -- by 26 tons. Some industrious soul came up with a brilliant plan: Why not slice up the meat and repackage with some trimmings on the side? Thus, the first TV dinner was born.
--- In 1863, when President Lincoln declared Thanksgiving a national holiday, it was thanks to the tireless efforts of a magazine editor named Sarah Josepha Hale. Her other claim to fame? She also wrote a nursery rhyme called “Mary Had a Little Lamb."
--- President Jefferson called a federal Thanksgiving proclamation “the most ridiculous idea ever conceived.”
---- Only male turkeys gobble. Hens cackle.
--- In the US, about 280 million turkeys are sold for the Thanksgiving celebrations. Californians are the largest consumers of turkey in the United States.
--- Turkey was the first meal enjoyed by Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin when they were on the moon.
---There are actually 12 claims to where the “first” Thanksgiving took place: two in Texas, two in Florida, one in Maine, two in Virginia, and five in Massachusetts.
--- Thanksgiving football games began with Yale versus Princeton in 1876, two teams that might be more entertaining than the Lions and Cowboys.
And with that, this column wishes you a perfect turkey, delicious stuffing, tangy cranberries and creamy pumpkin pie. But most of all, a year to be thankful for.
Robert Rector is a veteran of 50 years in print journalism. He has worked at the San Francisco Examiner, Los Angeles Herald Examiner, Valley News, Los Angeles Times and Pasadena Star-News. He can be reached at Nulede@Aol.Com.