Thanksgiving in the US of A

The fourth Thursday in November has arrived, and with it the harvest festival celebrated in the United States as Thanksgiving. I will ignore the disputes of origin, and the athletic events associated with this week, and proceed to what nearly every person in the US thinks is central to this event — the feast.

Menu preferences for this November US feast day apparently vary widely from region to region. The New York Times has posted this interesting map based on search terms people used Wednesday to find recipes on Allrecipes.com. There are 50 maps, each indicating the geographic distribution of searches for a specific term, from “sweet potato casserole” (310 per 10,000 searches) to “cheese cake” (19 per 10,000 searches).

The regional differences are interesting, but I wonder what to make of them. If you have a recipe that you like and have used for years, would you need to search a cooking site for it? Or are you more likely to search for a recipe for something new that you haven’t cooked before? What does it mean that “green bean casserole” was searched in Wisconsin 32% more than the national average? Is it a new fad in Wisconsin? Or is it very popular there and everyone has lost their recipes? Or perhaps everyone is tired of the old recipe and wants to try something new. Or maybe there are more households where a son or daughter is frantically trying to find out how Mom used to make it before the whole family arrives? And who needs a recipe for “mashed potatoes” (I note that Idaho is 41% below the national average on that one)?

Along with the maps there is an interesting article that helps illuminate the meaning of all these searches, particularly as an indicator for marketing — that’s right, the merchants are watching your searches to try to guess your purchasing habits. Speaking of all these recipe searches on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, Tanya Wenman Steel of Epicurious, says “it shows that people aren’t planning.”

And here you will find a detailed description of one well-planned Thanksgiving menu and its preparations.

Anyway, for all those who celebrate this holiday, have a festive one, enjoy your visits and visitors, and enjoy the food. If you are traveling, travel safely. And in the midst of all this, try to remember the name of this festival and what it means.

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