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Exploring Foodways in American Thanksgiving and the Inuit Foraging Society


Food is not just some eating stuff; rather, it is a powerful medium that speaks loudly to reflect the beliefs, practices, and traditions of a society. The paper dives into the intriguing world of foodways, particularly as it pertains to the American Thanksgiving holiday and a specific society, say, among foragers, horticulturalists, or pastoralists. Thanksgiving in America is one of the most cherished celebrations and is characterized by a traditional feast bringing families together (Desjardins, 2020). The contrast in foodways between the American Thanksgiving holiday and the Inuit foraging society personifies profound cultural distances emphasizing modes of production, gender division of labor, and societal values associated with food.

Thanksgiving Holiday American Foodways

Thanksgiving in America is greatly cherished as a holiday, with the fourth Thursday in November. Cherished family gatherings and feasts are a feature of this holiday. Similarly, some of the key dishes that “must” be part of my family’s Thanksgiving meal include roasted turkey, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, stuffing, and pumpkin pie (Desjardins, 2020). These dishes bear intrinsic sentimental value within them and have, over time, become part of our traditional Thanksgiving dinner table. Variations with regard to the respective state preferences and cultural background might differ, but similar dishes are considered to be traditional for the everyday family meal of an ordinary American. It is usually accompanied by an assortment of side dishes including, but not limited to, green bean casserole, sweet potatoes with gravy, and other varieties and dessert items such as apple pie or pecan pie.

There are a few items within my family’s Thanksgiving meal that I need help to have due to either dietary restrictions or personal choice. As a religious tenet, we abstain from including pork and shellfish items on the menu. However, during such a Thanksgiving dinner, citizens in an American family have to mix the dishes and their flavors as it has to cater to different preferences and restrictions. This offers a variety of options to cut on the various tastes and preferences of the family members (Brown et al., 2020). A closer thought on the choices made thus helps in heeding how the Thanksgiving menu represents the cultural diversity and personal selections within a family setup.

Other than some of the more traditional salad vegetables, such as the salad greens and herbs that we grow in our backyard, almost everything else is part of the Thanksgiving meal, mainly prepared through production and cultivation from scratch (Desjardins, 2020). Conversely, the bulk of the ingredients are purchased from a local farmers’ market or grocery store. The fraction by which the meal is prepared or grown by the person eating it varies in an average American household. Some families use store-bought ingredients and pre-packaged goods, while others may pride themselves on shopping locally and home-grown food.

The gendered division of labor for the Thanksgiving meal in the typical American family has changed over time and from household to household. Historically, women were most at home in the kitchen preparing and setting up for the meal, while men would pitch in by carving the turkey or helping with a small quantity of heavy lifting (Brown et al., 2020). That, however, has changed in contemporary times when food preparation and eating have both men and women working on cooking, serving, and cleaning the room in which the meal is served.

Foodways of Inuit Foragers

The Inuit is an Arctic North American foraging society. Their foodways have been tempered by the crucible of the harsh environment within which they live (Speth & Eugène, 2022). A diet typical of the Inuit people would feature such abundant natural sources of nutrients like fish, seals, whales, and many more marine animals. Dietary constituents of that nature are good natural sources of diverse essential nutrients. The Inuit people use distinct ways of hunting and fishing to keep up with their modes of survival in the environment that they live in.

In times of celebrations, for example, festivals or congregations, the Inuit people experience feasts that expose the values and cultural orientation that they uphold. Typical celebratory foods include dried fish, seal blubber, and whale meat. These are dried for preservation or fermented before consumption. The foods of the Inuit people come primarily from the environment they are surrounded by. Working for it is a sense of gaining the ability to hunt and fish to aptly respond to the land and sea that surround them (Speth & Eugène, 2022). In the Inuit ethnic group, sharing activities based on traditional roles is a distinguishing feature of the gender division of labor. The main activity for men is hunting and fishing, and women do almost all the rest of the housework – cleaning, cooking food, and preserving the results of hunting and fishing.


Traditional practices and customs are in contrast between the cultures of the Thanksgiving holiday in America and foraging with the Inuit societies. In Inuit, food is sourced only through hunting and fishing, unlike in America, where different providers and stores offer a variety of foods during the Thanksgiving meal. The traditional gender-based division of labor also varies. At the same time, American families undergo a flexible allocation of labor; the Inuit society experiences rigid division according to gender in food production and food preparation roles. Understanding and appreciating these diverse foodways give valuable insights into cultural significance and practices revolving around the food in specific societies.


Brown, N., McIlwraith, T., & de González, L. T. (2020). Perspectives: An open introduction to cultural anthropology (Vol. 2300). American Anthropological Association.

Desjardins, S. P. (2020). Neo-Inuit strategies for ensuring food security during the Little Ice Age climate change episode, Foxe Basin, Arctic Canada. Quaternary International549, 163-175.

Speth, J. D., & Eugène, M. (2022). Putrid Meat in the Tropics: It Wasn’t Just For Inuit. PaleoAnthropology2022(2).


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