Why do we all eat the same thing on the same day?
Beef is never on the Thanksgiving menu because the Pilgrims didn’t serve it at Plymouth in 1621. Instead the whole United States eats turkey with winter squash, cranberries, corn something and pumpkin pie. Our traditional Thanksgiving dinner is a replica of that first one in the New World to remind us when and how the United States was born and what made it different from the Old World. Turkey, cranberries, squash, corn and pumpkins were not the only never-seen-before foods the colonists discovered, but they were the last the natives harvested, so we ritually eat them every year on the fourth Thursday of November. In the same way, at the dawn of spring, on their holiday called Purim, Jews eat a triangular pastry filled with poppy seeds. They’re called Hamantaschen, Haman cakes, after an ancient Persian villain who plotted to destroy Israel’s tribes—those seeds—and they’re eaten with glee as a reminder that Haman was foiled and destroyed by the valiant Jewish queen Esther. Many cultures have special foods like these that define their winter holiday.
Sandra Garson is the author of Veggiyana, the Dharma of Cooking and How to Fix a Leek and Other Food From Your Farmers’ Market. As a longtime student of Tibetan Buddhism and well-known cook for Dharma centers from Maine to Mongolia, she became the first food historian to explore the Buddha’s influence on how the world now eats. This led to exploration of more religious beliefs about food.