The Stomach of Man Under Socialism: A Culinary History of Socialist America

Sidebar: Anything for Thanksgiving?

And let these altars, wreathed with flowers
And piled with fruits, awake again
Thanksgivings for the golden hours,
The early and the latter rain!

-John Greenleaf Whittier, For An Autumn Festival (1859)

"Those of you who have always lived in New York do not think of this Thanksgiving game of ragamuffin as a strange custom, but the strangers coming to our city are greatly surprised, and ask what it means."- Reverend James Farrar (1909)

Every year on the final Thursday of November, Americans gather in their home kitchens and supper clubs to celebrate Thanksgiving, a food holiday tied up in the Cooperative Commonwealth's own dialectical reading of American history, a holiday born out of the triumph of the Yankee bourgeoisie over the feudal overlords of the South, now celebrated by the ever-victorious American proletariat. The dialectical struggle plays out on the plate- Thanksgiving's menu over the years being defined by a conflict between Francophiles and all-Americans, the dishes supplied by the bounty of Industrial Unionism but adorned in autumnal fare with a hint of the reactionary, the cornucopia a cry back to simpler and more agrarian past. The struggle carries on to the table- Thanksgiving was secular enough to have avoided a period of official disapproval but not secular enough to avoid an air of suspicion around its celebration[1]. Thanksgiving is not the only American holiday with a strong food component, but while other public celebrations are centered around Union or Party, Thanksgiving is a holiday of hearth and home, centered mostly on individual families- even when celebrated in large dining halls, it is an arrangement of many little Thanksgivings rather than one communal experience.

The menu varies across the Cooperative Commonwealth, but is marked at least in part by the appearance of foods which are absent from the American diet for the rest of the year- the centerpiece being the domesticated turkey, the vast majority of which are raised only for slaughter around Thanksgiving. The sudden spike in the slaughter of turkeys in the Cooperative Commonwealth in late November generates a glut in turkey tails, which grace the menus of union cafeterias and supper clubs (by way of pushy wholesalers) as 'seasonal specials' from December through January. Oyster stew appears on Thanksgiving menus as an ode to the era before refrigeration and transportation where the arrival of oysters at market was the calling in of winter, and to an America past which had a greater appetite for oysters. The regional divide between pumpkin pie and sweet potato pie is one with deep roots, calling back to a time when the very holiday of Thanksgiving was an act of Northern aggression against an aggrieved South, a sentiment that has not altogether disappeared even under the Cooperative Commonwealth but has left the holiday of Thanksgiving entirely. The pies are mostly indistinguishable from one another to one who is not in the know. American 'dressing', a savory bread pudding, is a relic from the American myth of the frontier, a frugal dish stretching bread and broth and the last of a garden's vegetables. It is most commonly prepared nowadays from a box, composed of dried ingredients suspended in time and space from any of the constraints which would necessitate such a dish.

Beyond the tensions and contradictions of the Thanksgiving menu (and it is something of an American joke that Thanksgiving is a time for the airing of family complaints and grievances, whether hosted in a cramped American home or in an airy rented cooperative hall), there is little that would stand out to a foreign observer at the table- it is simply a celebratory meal. Out in the streets, however, there is a practice which seems taken from the old mummer's play. American children go forth in the morning hours of Thanksgiving, dressed in a pantomime of hobos and vagrants, and beg for candy door-to-door.

The Ragamuffins, as they are called, are sometimes organized in to parades in larger cities, where the door-to-door begging has largely fallen out of fashion, but the distribution of candy has not. In smaller towns and cities, Ragamuffins very proudly take to the streets to knock on doors and ask 'Anything for Thanksgiving?' and take whatever prepackaged candies may be had into their soot-blackened hands.

The Ragamuffins are a tradition which go back at least to the beginnings of Thanksgiving as a national holiday in the 1870s, although the traditional practice was largely limited to New York City and its horizons. The modern practice is thoroughly national and, rather than being some cultural descendant of the medieval wassail or the demands of carolers, it can trace its origins to a campaign by Industrial Union No. 460 (Confectionery Worker’s Section) to advertise the greater availability and variety of sweets in the late Fifties[2]. That campaign showed children in Ragamuffin garb eating candy, smiling underneath hats too large for their faces and within only a few years, Ragamuffins were found on Thanksgiving Day across the Cooperative Commonwealth.

The Ragamuffin tradition can be quite jarring to an unexpecting foreigner- the first time I encountered it, I was taken completely unawares and handed out old wine jellies and pennies from my coat pockets and gathered that I should count my good graces that I was a foreigner with an excuse to be stingy.

If nothing else, we should be able to rest easy that Cadbury won't be getting any ideas on encouraging British children to accost strangers for chocolate, any more than Britain's turkey farmers (I assume they must exist) will get the stolid British yeoman to abandon their gammons for an old Tom turkey. And if you do find yourself in America in November- pretend not to be home or plan ahead with the candy products of Industrial Union No. 460.

[1] The clear official favorite holiday of November is Evacuation Day, and the lighting of beacons in New York and New Jersey is televised annually. There is little official programming around Thanksgiving.

[2] Sugar rationing had begun in the Forties and had not been fully lifted when the Special Period began, the opening of Cuba to American trade and 'technical assistance' also coincided with the end of the Special Period and a widening and novel availability of sugar to Americans and their children.
 
Thanksgivoween. At least they're going out in the morning daylight hours.

Could a more creepy/occult holiday arise from the collaborations of confectioners and movie makers? And actually with horror movies in general, including the Halloween franchise itself, it involved a lot of independent filmmakers. Could that be something the Commonwealth starts tolerating, to boost its presence in international film festivals and such? Or do we see some of that energy channeled into, say, concept albums?
 
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Thanksgivoween. At least they're going out in the morning daylight hours.

Could a more creepy/occult holiday arise from the collaborations of confectioners and movie makers? And actually with horror movies in general, including the Halloween franchise itself, it involved a lot of independent filmmakers. Could that be something the Commonwealth starts tolerating, to boost its presence in international film festivals and such? Or do we see some of that energy channeled into, say, concept albums?
Thanksgiving doesn't have a horror component ITTL, the Ragamuffin costumes here are of hobos, bindlestiffs and the Bummery, not ghouls and goblins. It has the anarchic spirit of Halloween, but not really the macabre, and is followed by a familial dinner, so doesn't even have the nighttime hijinks of the other holiday. Halloween as we know it is probably a mostly Canadian affair and regional quirk.

As to horror films (and the American film industry in general) I haven't really given it much thought as it's not a topic I really know or care about a lot. The American film industry being centered in Jacksonville, Florida is essentially the only thing I've firmly decided.
 
Finally got around to reading this--I've seen it mentioned a few times. Absolutely incredible read, written in a very clear and enticing voice. Love the emphasis being placed on social history, since I think the subject is ill-explored on this site. I frankly don't think it's possible for the US to have a famine, seeing as it has a massive bread basket region, but I'm letting to let that go for a thoroughly enjoyable TL
 
Thanksgiving doesn't have a horror component ITTL, the Ragamuffin costumes here are of hobos, bindlestiffs and the Bummery, not ghouls and goblins. It has the anarchic spirit of Halloween, but not really the macabre, and is followed by a familial dinner, so doesn't even have the nighttime hijinks of the other holiday. Halloween as we know it is probably a mostly Canadian affair and regional quirk.
Dang, what a shame. At least we still got Thanksgiving, and an update on the same day, hahaha.
 
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