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A Traditional Thanksgiving Meal, With Modern Shortcuts

Shopping for a turkey at a store in Mountain View, California
Shopping for a turkey at a store in Mountain View, California

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This is the VOA Special English Agriculture Report.

Thanksgiving Day is America's version of a harvest festival. The holiday is celebrated on the fourth Thursday in November.

This Thursday, millions of Americans will join family and friends to give thanks and eat a meal with a history that is centuries old.

Early European settlers in North America held other ceremonies where they gave thanks. But what Americans often consider the first Thanksgiving took place in Plymouth Colony. Today we call it Massachusetts.

Those settlers are known as the Pilgrims. They held a three-day celebration in the fall of sixteen twenty-one. They celebrated the harvest with members of a local Indian tribe.

The best known food that Americans traditionally eat on Thanksgiving is turkey. The nation's turkey producers are expected to raise two hundred forty-two million birds this year. The government says that is two percent fewer than last year. Last year's turkey production had a value of about three and a half billion dollars.

Thanksgiving turkeys are traditionally served with a bread mixture that some Americans call stuffing. Others call it dressing. Side dishes include cranberries, sweet potatoes and green beans or other vegetables. The meal traditionally ends with a dessert of pumpkin pie or pecan pie.

Some Thanksgiving foods have changed over time. For example, most turkeys these days are bred with larger breasts to provide more white meat. Corn -- known in much of the world as maize -- has also changed. It tastes much sweeter than the starchier corn of the past.

The way Americans prepare for Thanksgiving has also changed. Economist John Anderson of the American Farm Bureau Federation says people look for ways to save time, though not everyone does.

JOHN ANDERSON: "There are a lot of us who have grandmothers who would not even think of using a store-bought pie crust. And that is kind of the least of the shortcuts that we use."

He says shortcuts like buying prepared foods for the holiday are part of a bigger trend in America.

JOHN ANDERSON: "If you think about our food in general, not just Thanksgiving dinner, but our food products in general, there has been a tremendous move over the last twenty or thirty years toward more convenience products."

Some people might not have the time or the desire to prepare a big meal, or the space for a lot of guests. Whatever the reason, John Anderson notes that more people go to a restaurant for Thanksgiving dinner than in the past.

Charity groups and religious organizations will also be busy this Thursday, serving Thanksgiving meals to the needy. The weak economy has increased the number of Americans receiving government assistance to buy food.

And that's the VOA Special English Agriculture Report, written by Jerilyn Watson. I'm Bob Doughty.