Food, abundance, and religion have been integral to American culture since the first colonists arrived over 400 years ago.
The intersection of food and religion has long been integral to American culture. It is so ingrained in American life, we publicly celebrate abundance every November on Thanksgiving Day. The image of colonists and indigenous peoples sharing a bountiful harvest reminiscent of the Last Supper is a powerful metaphor for how we view food as a unifying force in society.
When the first colonists arrived they encountered a land of plenty teeming with wildlife. At Plymouth colony in 1621, a storm left the beach covered with piles of lobsters two feet high. “They were so plentiful and so easily gathered that they were considered fit only for the poor,” Waverley Root and Richard de Rochemont explained in Eating in America. The storm left pools of crabs all along the shores of Virginia.
Commenting on the abundance of fish at Jamestown, Captain John Smith wrote, “we tooke more in owne hour than we could eate in a day.” The colonists wondered at the size of the salmon, strawberries, and lobsters in the New World, and the Pilgrims, finding the luxury of clams and mussels tempered by their abundance, fed them to their hogs.
With origins in the Judeo-Christian tradition, the act of breaking bread with friends and neighbors had long been ingrained in religious ritual. So it was a feast the Pilgrims shared with the Wampanoags after their first arduous winter in New England, which eventually inspired the creation of a national holiday, Thanksgiving, centered around the consumption of large quantities of food.