Thanksgiving dinner is just not like it used to be

Thanksgiving, which is Thursday, appears on the surface to be unchanged over the years. The main dish is turkey with all the trimmings. It is a holiday. Leftovers provide meals for the next week.

Yet there have been profound changes. Thanksgiving in 1936 also was a time to smoke multiple cigarettes, if one is to believe a Chesterfield advertisement in one of the first issues of Life Magazine. The ad said that smoking a cigarette between courses of a big meal helped the digestion. Now smokers feel like they have to hide even in their own homes.

Tradition has it that Indians were guests at the first New England Thanksgiving feast hosted by pilgrims. But then white man’s diseases nearly wiped out the native inhabitants of what would become the United States. Back when Chesterfield was planning its Thanksgiving ad, most reservation Indians lived a miserable existence. Today a number of U.S. tribes employ armies of accountants full time as they enjoy the benefits of reservation casinos.

Chesterfield also generalized in its ad and showed women in white aprons serving up the turkey dinner. Today they do so only if they want to. The roles of men and women have been turned upside down. In fact, the traditional family has given way to multiple relationships with children from different unions and marriages so that Thanksgiving diners need a program to know who is who.

Once on crisp November mornings the menfolk would arm themselves and take to the woods for that elusive white-tailed deer. That, too, was a Thanksgiving tradition. Today neighbors might picket the home if a dead deer ended up in the trunk of the family car, and plenty of prime hunting areas are now subdivisions and condos.

Then there was the price of the turkey. Retailers would use the birds as loss leaders and lure holiday shoppers with cheap turkeys. Only last year Stateside Walmart stores were offering turkey at 40 cents a pound. Not any more.

U.S. prices for tom turkeys are up 30 percent over last year, according to the Food Institute, an industry group in Upper Saddle River, New Jersey. The main reason is a big jump in the price of feed, the institute said. And the production of turkeys is down, it added. The institute estimated the average turkey price at $1.05 per pound.

The institute experts were not talking about Costa Rica where turkey prices are, well, pricey. A check at the Automercado Monday showed that a Butterball brand bird was 3,600 colons per kilo.

That’s about $7.15 at the current exchange rate. And there are no one-kilo birds. A plump offering at 8.71 kilos goes for 31,356 colons or about $62.25.

Over at PriceSmart a smoked Zar brand turkey weighing in at 7.92 kilos carried a 46,688.40-colon sticker price. That’s about 5,900 colons a kilo or $92.64 for the bird.

There were no bargains at Hipermás either. An uncooked Butterball is 3,530 per kilo, similar to the Automercado price. A pre-cooked bird is 4,990 per kilo and a smoked bird is 4,900 per kilos. That is in the $9.80 per kilo range.

The Butterballs most certainly are imported and some of the 242 million birds being marketed this season, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The Zar birds could be home-grown.

More bad news. Pumpkins have had a bad year, so they are up more than 6 percent a can in the United States, according to the Food Institute. Good luck getting a good price locally on pumpkin or elusive cranberries, canned or fresh.

Of course a creative cook could use local squash instead, although there does not seem to be a good tropical substitute for cranberries.

With the level of the supermarket prices, dinner out seems like a good alternative, which is a big change from the home-cooked Thanksgiving meal decades earlier.

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