Editor's note

As you dig into your Thanksgiving meal, chances are you won’t be eating what the Pilgrims and Natives ate. According to Wayne State food anthropologist Julie Lesnik, there’s only one account of the first Thanksgiving meal, and it mentions a hunting expedition to gather “waterfowl” (duck). She also explains why it wouldn’t have been possible for favorites like pumpkin pie and mashed potatoes to have made an appearance.

So how did turkey, cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie become synonymous with Thanksgiving? Marketing professor Samantha Cross points to the big role advertising campaigns played in the late-19th and early-20th centuries.

And remember that story about the molecule found in turkey that makes you drowsy? As Penn State’s Kevin Bennett explains, research show it’s a myth – although tryptophan may be connected to cooperation.

Nick Lehr

Arts + Culture Editor

Top stories

Waterfowl – not turkey – would have been the main course. Winslow Homer, 'Right and Left' (1909), National Gallery of Art

What the first Thanksgiving dinner actually looked like

Julie Lesnik, Wayne State University

Dishes we consider staples today have little to do with the first feast.

Libby’s continues to fiercely compete with pumpkin pie peddlers Borden’s, Snowdrift and Mrs. Smith’s for a place on the Thanksgiving table. Jean Beaufort

How advertising shaped Thanksgiving as we know it

Samantha N. N. Cross, Iowa State University

At one point, turkey was jockeying with duck and chicken for king of the Thanksgiving table.

Don’t blame the turkey for those snores coming from the living room! Shannon Jordan/Shutterstock.com

No, turkey doesn't make you sleepy – but it may bring more trust to your Thanksgiving table

Kevin Bennett, Pennsylvania State University

Remember that story about the molecule found in turkey that makes you drowsy? Research shows it's a myth – tryptophan doesn't cause you to nod off, but it may be connected to cooperation.

Environment + Energy

Ethics + Religion

  • Feeling guilty about drinking? Well, ask the saints

    Michael Foley, Baylor University

    For those wondering whether it is sinful to drink, even moderately, a scholar goes into the history of alcohol and its distillation to show how early monks and priests contributed to it.

  • What is behind the turkey pardoning ritual?

    Tobin Miller Shearer, The University of Montana

    The presidential turkey pardoning draws on a language of forgiveness common to many religious traditions.

Science + Technology

  • Expert roundtable: the psychological benefits of our Thanksgiving rituals

    Barbara Fiese, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; Anne Fishel, Harvard Medical School ; Bill Doherty, University of Minnesota; Janine Roberts, University of Massachusetts Amherst

    Our panel discusses the benefits of gathering for an annual holiday meal. Traditions and rituals give us a sense of identity and closeness with those we love – and come with mental and physical health benefits too.

Politics + Society

Economy + Business

Arts + Culture

  • The two men who almost derailed New England's first colonies

    Peter C. Mancall, University of Southern California – Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences

    The Pilgrims were thankful for finally being able to vanquish Thomas Morton and Ferdinando Gorges, who spent years trying to undermine the legal basis for settlements in Massachusetts and beyond.