Today is Thanksgiving in the United States.
I am not in the United States, but a pale imitation of the day has taken root in the foreign community here on the Costalegre. And I will be participating by attending a dinner served at Papa Gallo's on the beach in San Patricio.
Let me make a rather shocking confession first. I do not care for turkey. I never have. I know that some people consider The Big Bird to be the very apex of holiday cuisine. Not me. It is not that I dislike turkey; I simply find it to be rather boring. Like mashed potatoes.
But this day would not be Thanksgiving without slabs of turkey being slapped onto the china that gets an outing twice a year -- only to be hidden away until November and December arrive.
What makes turkey interesting to me is not its place on holiday plates, but its relationship with my new homeland. Mexico's relationship with turkeys is a circular one. A lot of our modern foods were first developed by the pre-Columbian tribes in Mexico. They were the first to develop the big three -- corn, tomatoes, and long chilies. Turkeys were also one of their accomplishments.
When the Spanish tribe arrived, they stole and took home a lot of silver and gold. But they also took boatloads of what they deemed to be exotic foods to Europe. It took time for corn and tomatoes to catch on, but turkeys were an immediate hit -- probably because the Europeans were already familiar with eating game birds.
From the early 1500s, the Spanish king decreed that a minimum number of turkeys would be required for import in each ship that sailed from Mexico to the Old World, and with the help of the imperial Portuguese, turkeys, chilies, and tomatoes soon became common on each of the world's continents.
Mexican tribes had been domesticating and eating the two species of wild turkeys indigenous to Mexico since at least 800 BC. Most consumed what is commonly known as the North American wild turkey. But the Maya domesticated the far more colorful ocellated turkey found only in the areas that were once part of their city-state "empire:" the Yucatán Peninsula, Belize, and Guatemala.
Both the Aztec and the Maya prized turkeys, not only for their meat, but for their feathers. When the Spanish saw toms in full strut, they named the turkey for the only other bird that had a similar look: the peacock. Pavo is still the most common word used for the bird -- even though it is not uncommon to hear Mexicans refer to the birds as guajolote, the Spanish transliteration of the Nahuatl word used by the Aztec.
Those imported turkeys quickly made their way to England where they became common enough that a flock of them were thrown into the hold of the Mayflower in 1620 on its voyage to Massachusetts -- only 100 years after the first turkey set shank in Spain. Not only had the pilgrims ended up in a land where they had not intended to land, they also had not planned well on their choice of fowl provisions.
In comparison with the flocks of hefty wild turkeys that were there for the shooting, the European breed was a rather weedy lot. But the domesticated turkeys were retained just in case things went south. And, as we know from the history of the colony, south things went. Quickly.
Some of the turkeys the Pilgrims brought from England were the forbearers of the domesticated turkeys that eventually became common as celebratory birds on American holiday tables in the 19th century.
The descendants of those domesticated turkeys that made the round-trip to and from Europe can also be seen in some Mexican farm yards. But they are not a common sight on Mexican dinner tables. That has always seemed to be odd to me because a large portion of the sandwich meat sold here is turkey ham.
Mexican friends have offered me several theories -- the most compelling being that turkeys are too expensive for most families. That is consistent with the other theory that Mexicans are not accustomed to eating large portions of poultry meat.
I have no idea if either of those theories are true. But I do know that the turkey I will eat tonight has a bit of DNA that once moved from Mexico to Europe and back to Mexico. Could there be a better symbol of successful globalism?
Well, for me, there would be. How about a plate of Thanksgiving prime beef or lamb? I suspect that is what my brother's family will be eating today.
Happy Thanksgiving to you all.