When Thanksgiving became a national holiday back in 1863, it was a repudiation of the French aristocracy, says food historian Rachel Laudan. Europe’s haute cuisine, contemporaries believed, “ruined the individual, the household, and the nation.” Thus, this “simple meal…became a national celebration embracing all citizens,” Laudan wrote in a 2013 Boston Globe essay.
Contemporary novelist and cookbook author Sarah Josepha Hale designed the standard Thanksgiving mean as an affirmation of our (small ‘r’) republican virtues. Turkey was cheap to procure, pumpkin pie was easy to make, and cranberry sauce was a simple take on the fancy toppings typical in a French court.
The meaning of Thanksgiving has changed over the years—thanks in part to Julia Child’s successful effort to democratize French cuisine—but even today, “nobody suggests adding truffles to your turkey,” Laudan says.
Nick Gillespie interviewed Laudan about the meaning of Thanksgiving and other aspects of culinary history, drawing on her fascinating, 2013 book, Cuisine & Empire.
Click below to listen to that conversation—or subscribe to our podcast at iTunes.
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