November 25, 2008

Wampsutta, monkey meat and other Thanksgiving thoughts

Unless you're a Native American, Thanksgiving is a happy feast day. In Plymouth, not far from where I live, there's food and celebration. But if you look deeper, you'll also find members of the Wampanoag tribe gathered for their National Day of Mourning, held since 1970 when Frank James, a Wampanoag known as Wampsutta, was disinvited to speak at a Thanksgiving dinner when organizers discovered his speech was about the real history of relations between the so-called pilgrims and the native people whose land they landed on. Read James's speech here. No mention of turkey or fixins'.

Thanksgiving. Giving thanks for the blessing of being able to get together with others to buy, cook and eat way too much food, store it as leftovers, and, a week later, figure out what to do with the still uneaten remains. (Pitch it. If you freeze it, it will still be there next Thanksgiving.)

Allow me to use Thanksgiving as a segue into a travel post by sharing with you some of the things I've eaten around the world: monkey stew in Peru; yakburgers in Tibet; boiled, mashed manioc root softened (I swear) with human spit in the Amazon; roasted guinea pig in Ecuador; octopus in Greece; rotten black eggs in Hong Kong; gelatinous green yolk balls in Taipei; tea brewed with coca plant leaves in the Andes.

OK, I didn't really eat the manioc mess -- I pretended to take a taste as the bowl was passed around -- it was probably still full when it returned to the hands of the Yagua Indian woman who'd made it. But all of the other dishes were at least marginally palatable. Some, like the monkey and guinea pig, were culinary treats.

I can't say that for the eel chunks in broth that I was served on a train from Hong Kong to Guangzhou. And positively foul were the snake bits I found hidden in half the dishes on nearly every lazy susan set in the middle of the table in most big-city Chinese restaurants. The Chinese habit of sneaking slices of slithery serpent into my food made me turn to the Power Bars and canned beans and tuna I had in my suitcase. Otherwise I might have starved.