Thanksgiving is becoming like all other holidays, a time for people to trot out their favorite “racisms.” I understand their point, but the myth of the origins of the holiday in no way takes away from the benefits of having one day set aside to be grateful. Of course, that doesn’t mean we can’t be grateful at other times, but Thanksgiving is a group effort, not just a personal one.
Adding to the claims of racism against indigenous people are now claims of African racism, focused on the name of a traditional Thanksgiving food. Yams, that is. Apparently, a real “yam” is an African staple, a fibrous starchy root that can grow up to 45 feet. What we call yams aren’t yams, but sweet potatoes, even though those “orange sweet potatoes” have as much in common with a classic potato as the so-called yam has with a . . . well, with a yam. In fact, those orange “sweet potatoes” have more in common with a morning glory than with a classic potato. Yams, potatoes, and sweet potatoes all belong to different classifications; real yams are related to lilies, potatoes are part of the nightshade family, and sweet potatoes are part of the morning glory family.
Originally, there was a hard tuber that stayed firm even when cooked that was called a sweet potato. It vaguely resembled the yams of Africa, so the slaves called it a yam, and it became one of the “transfer” foods that helped captive Africans keep some of their own traditions. A staple of the southern diet for generations, it was considered an inferior food by rich whites. Later, when a new, softer, sweet potato was cultivated (the orange tuber we are familiar with), marketers needed a different name for the sweet potato, so they called it a yam. (A sort of racial theft.)
But it’s not a yam. Not a potato. Not even a traditional sweet potato. So who knows what it is. All I know is I cooked up a couple. (Unlike most people, I find the tubers sweet enough without the addition of sugar or marshmallows or whatever, and nibble on them without adornment as a treat.)
What does all this have to do with Turkey Day? Not much, really. These are just things I’m thinking and reading about as my turkey cooks. Yep. You heard it right. I’m cooking a turkey today. I was in the grocery store recently and having a hard time deciding what I’d like to eat. When I saw the turkey on sale, I thought, “Why not?”
Who says a turkey has to be cooked on Thanksgiving? Why can’t it be just . . . food?
So, that’s what I’m doing, cooking a turkey right now, which makes today a happy turkey day.
Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator.