*The Golden Age, Garden of Eden, and Thanksgiving Myth of Origin*
*By Karen Davis PhD, President, United Poultry Concerns *
This article was first published Nov. 26, 2019 on the *Animals 24-7*
* “The question before us is, which images of the universe, of power, *
* of animals, of ourselves, will we represent in our food?” *
– Carol J. Adams, *The Sexual Politics of Meat*, p. 202.
*How Will a “Myth of Origin” Be Used?*
People look to the mythic past for prototypes in order to propagate some
hope for the present and future, to protect existing traditions and
to advance new practices and prospects from elements within the myths that
not yet been exploited. This is the true use of the Golden Age and the
Eden and other myths of origin, including the American myth of Thanksgiving.
Myths of origin act as informing principles of existence. In this sense
promote ethical insight and change, or they can be invoked ironically to
the “fallen world” from the infiltration of ethical progress. This is how
have mainly been used with respect to how we view and treat the other
the animal kingdom to which we ourselves belong.
*”Traditions” Evolve and Change*
How a myth of origin will be used is primarily a matter of desire and will,
in a word, motivation, because people in reality constantly change their
traditions to conform to whatever else they believe or identify with.
The American Thanksgiving, which is rooted in ancient harvest festival
traditions, has been “recreated” many times over; fabricated, as James W.
shows in his chapter, “The Truth about the First Thanksgiving” in his book
*My Teacher Told Me*.
Arguably, says Elizabeth Pleck in *Celebrating the Family*, vegetarians who
hours preparing a tofu turkey or a chestnut casserole from scratch express
spirit of Thanksgiving more authentically than the turkey takeout people do,
while taking the American tradition of the pioneer to a new level of
*Turning Flesh into Fruit*
Substitution of new materials for previously used ones to celebrate a
is an integral part of tradition. In the religious realm, if we can
animal flesh for human flesh, and bread and wine for “all flesh” and the
shedding of innocent blood in communion services, and can view these
advances of civilization, not as inferior substitutes for genuine religious
experience, then we are ready to go forward in our everyday lives on ground
is already laid.
Could the religions of the world ever reach the point of respecting “all
not in false ceremonies of compassion, but in actual fact? *For if God can
*flesh, then flesh can become fruit.*
Technologically, this transformation, this substitution, has already
People have demanded it, and technology can meet the demand.
If the Peaceable Kingdom is a genuine desire and a practicable prospect,
meat is the food to which dead meat has aspired, and the animal-free meat
are as deserving as anyone of the Nobel Prize for Peace.
*Disgust at the Thought of Meat*
In the past, says Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, author of *The Evolving Self and*
*Creativity*, “our limbic system learned to produce disgust at the smell of
meat. Now we might be learning to experience disgust at the thought of
meat in the first place – thanks to values that are the result of
The cultural turkey in America is a model figure that allows us to examine
attitudes and the values they imply, like the values implicit in creating
laughingstocks and innocent victims in order to feel thankful, and the
a nation that ritually constitutes itself by consuming an animal – one,
moreover, that it despises and mocks as part of a patriotic celebration
memorializing the wholesome virtues of family life.
In The “Thanksgiving” Turkey: Object of Sentimentality, Sarcasm, and
I draw attention to the moral ecology surrounding the Thanksgiving turkey,
miasma arising from the traditional holiday meal. The ritual taunting of the
sacrificial bird conducted by the media each year – what if this
foreplay and blood sacrifice were taken away?
What elements of Thanksgiving would remain?
*Decomposing Turkey Ghosts*
Hunters claim that the killing they do is incidental to their joy of being
the woods, and turkey eaters claim that the carnage they inflict is
to their appetite for togetherness.
Yet the carnage perpetrated by both is the one thing in the midst of other
changes on which these people stand firm, as if Plymouth Rock amounted in
final analysis to little more than a pile of meat, just as the symbol of
happiness is portrayed in the final epiphany of Scrooge in Charles Dickens’
*Christmas Carol*, published in 1843. There, under the aspect of the Ghost
Christmas Present, Scrooge mounts a pile of flesh as a foretaste of his
social redemption and return to life’s pleasures:
“Heaped up on the floor, to form a kind of throne, were turkeys, geese,
poultry, brawn, great joints of meat, suckling-pigs, [and] long wreaths of
Scrooge’s first charitable act following his nightmares is to purchase “the
prize Turkey” hanging upside down at the butcher shop.
*Free All Spirits from Inflicted Suffering*
It is time for the Ghosts of Christmas Past and Present to include the
all those turkeys who were murdered for the meals of “Scrooge.” It is time
all future turkey ghosts to be freed from haunting the table.
Slowly this pile of avian ghosts may be rotting away. As the present century
proceeds in America, the conflict between vegans and flesh eaters, between
animal rights people and the rest of society, crystalizes at Thanksgiving.
As the single most visible animal symbol in America, the de facto symbol of
nation, the turkey focuses our conflict and marks its progress in a holiday
which personal values and cultural ideals come together, or clash, most
Carol J. Adams. *The Sexual Politics of Meat: A Feminist-Vegetarian
New York: Continuum, 1990. New edition published by Bloomsbury
Mihály Csíkszentmihályi. “It’s All in Your Head.” *Washington Post Book
May 16, 1999, 3.
Karen Davis. *More Than a Meal: The Turkey in History, Myth, Ritual, and
New York: Lantern Books, 2001.
Charles Dickens. *A Christmas Carol and Other Haunting Tales*. New York:
Public Library-Doubleday, 1998. First published 1843. See Karen Davis, *More
*a Meal*, 59-60.
James W. Loewen. *Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History*
*Textbook Got Wrong* <https://thenewpress.com/books/lies-my-teacher-told-me>.
New York: Simon & Schuster, 1995. New revised edition
published by The Free Press, 2018.
Elizabeth H. Pleck. *Celebrating the Family: Ethnicity, Consumer Culture,
*Family Rituals*. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2000.
– Turkeys: Sympathy, Sensibility, and Sentience
– The “Thanksgiving” Turkey: Object of Sentimentality, Sarcasm, and
– Cutie, My Precious Turkey, Was a True Joy to Me
– Peeper: A Story of Unending Love