Thanksgiving 2.0: Food, Poverty, and Telling the Truth

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Thanksgiving 2.0: Food, Poverty, and Telling the Truth

This Thanksgiving, most of us around the country shared a bountiful harvest feast with friends and family. We celebrated all that we are thankful for by gorging ourselves right into a food coma. It’s the American way. Unfortunately, it’s also the American way to be thankful for all that we have while not always acknowledging those around us who are without. It’s also the American way to not fully understand the real truth about Thanksgiving.

In his brilliant book A People’s History of the United States, the late Howard Zinn noted that we need to question “the excuse of progress in the annihilation of races, and the telling of history from the standpoint of the conquerors and leaders of Western civilization.”  In his provocative and necessary book Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong, author James W. Loewen finds that the “true history of Thanksgiving reveals embarrassing facts. The Pilgrims did not introduce the tradition; [Native Americans] had observed autumnal harvest celebrations for centuries … During the Civil War, when the Union needed all the patriotism that such an observance might muster, Abraham Lincoln proclaimed Thanksgiving a national holiday. The Pilgrims had nothing to do with it; not until the 1890s did they even get included in the tradition.”  Moreover, he notes that all foods typically included in Thanksgiving meals “are exclusively indigenous to the Americas and had been provided by the local tribe. This notion that ‘we’ advanced peoples provided for the [Native Americans is] exactly the converse of the truth….”

The genocide and abject poverty that our Nation’s early settlers, founders and subsequent leaders bestowed upon the millions of Native Americans cannot be forgotten, and must be included in any sane and complete description of our history. President Obama has woven pieces of this history into his annual Thanksgiving Proclamations. In 2009, President Obama said, “[w]e also recognize the contributions of Native Americans, who helped the early colonists survive their first harsh winter and continue to strengthen our Nation.” This year’s Proclamation stated “[t]his spirit brought together the newly arrived Pilgrims and the Wampanoag tribe — who had been living and thriving around Plymouth, Massachusetts for thousands of years — in an autumn harvest feast centuries ago.  This Thanksgiving Day, we reflect on the compassion and contributions of Native Americans, whose skill in agriculture helped the early colonists survive, and whose rich culture continues to add to our Nation’s heritage.” These two statements are thoughtful and powerful, yet more can be done to tell the whole story.

In these times when so many millions of Americans are suffering in poverty, we need to do more to support each other. We all need to join the fight in combating poverty and homelessness.  This is not communism or even socialism, it’s Americanism. The President included in his 2009 Proclamation that “[a]s we gather once again among loved ones, let us also reach out to our neighbors and fellow citizens in need of a helping hand.” In his 2010 Proclamation, he stated “[t]his harvest season, we are also reminded of those experiencing the pangs of hunger or the hardship of economic insecurity.  Let us return the kindness and generosity we have seen throughout the year by helping our fellow citizens weather the storms of our day.” Let us all do our part to live up to this.

Join us in urging President Obama to tell the entire truth about Thanksgiving, and to continue to ask all Americans to do our part in helping our neighbors throughout the entire year.

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