This week, two maps spread virally on Twitter. One, from FiveThirtyEight, was originally published in 2015, but was recirculated in the run-up to Thanksgiving the way that #holiday #content tends to on a short week. It shows which foods, by region, are served at Thanksgiving dinners in each part of the country but are not frequently served elsewhere. Narrowly slicing data to draw broad conclusions about entire parts of the country is literally FiveThirtyEight’s reason for existing, and the fact that it can be applied to holiday foods as effectively as it can political analysis is pretty funny.
— FiveThirtyEight (@FiveThirtyEight) November 18, 2018
The other map, from Twitter user Brian Brettschneider, purports to show which type of pie each region prefers, attributing its sourcing to “survey data,” whatever that refers to. In this chart, the preferred pies of each region appear to be determined more or less at random. For proof, consider the pie Texas (and the entire South!) gets: key lime.
Map showing the favorite Thanksgiving Day pie by region. Discuss. pic.twitter.com/0rvvmIbbyj
— Brian Brettschneider (@Climatologist49) November 20, 2018
We’ll buy the FiveThirtyEight map. Cornbread may not be the most vital component of a Texas Thanksgiving, but the site’s founder, Nate Silver, lives in New York City and presumably made no distinction between cornbread (a sometimes snack) and cornbread dressing (ubiquitous). It would be strange to attend a Thanksgiving in Texas without cornbread dressing, and strange to attend one in Squash Country—the Northeast—that served it. (Squash, meanwhile, is an entirely optional dish that is only served if your host really likes making vegetables.) West Coasters, meanwhile, have assured us that “salad” as a famous Thanksgiving tradition is overblown—we’ll assume that Californians eat so many salads that they just listed it on the survey out of force of habit.
The “Favorite Thanksgiving Pie” map, though, is much more dubious. Maybe you’ve had key lime pie at a Texas Thanksgiving. If so, it was because you attended a Thanksgiving dinner with someone who really, really loves key lime pie for some reason, and not because there’s any historic tradition of key lime pie for the holidays. Pecan, obviously—have you see all of the pecan trees we have out there? Pumpkin, sure. Peach? We’d grudgingly accept it. Listing key lime pie as the preferred Thanksgiving pie of Texas, and the entire South, reveals the list to be an obvious fraud. (Placing coconut cream pie as the pie of the Midwest, as opposed to something mundanely traditional like apple, is another giveaway.)
Brettschneider’s map has drawn considerable commentary on Twitter, since it’s the day before a holiday and nobody wants to work. That includes Senator Ted Cruz, who responded to it with the hashtag #FakeNews.
Brettschneider posted a second map, citing the same unspecified “survey data,” that ranked how popular pumpkin pie is in each state. This one, intuitively, makes sense—it places somewhere in the top five everywhere, but is no one’s favorite (except in South Carolina, which, maybe?). But it’s also possible that this second map was shared to lend some credibility to the first one, which—if it draws from actual survey data at all—was surely a survey of people who hate pie, hate Thanksgiving, have never attended a Thanksgiving dinner anywhere, and were told to pick a favorite by looking at the color.
All of this is silly and meaningless, of course, but it’s a nice distraction on the day before a holiday. Enjoy your cornbread dressing (try our favorite recipe here)— or cornbread itself, if that’s the way you swing—enjoy your favorite pie, whatever it may be (and if it’s key lime, take a photo and tag us @texasmonthly), and let’s try to allow ourselves a day or two to be thankful for the chance to debate the silly and meaningless.