During my recent Thanksgiving break, a refreshing, cozy few days spent with my family, I came to a potentially inflammatory, certainly controversial conclusion: turkey is entirely unnecessary for Thanksgiving. There, I said it — may the turkey gods be merciful and not strike me down. The same goes for cranberry relish, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, yams with marshmallows, rolls, gravy, and even pie. Why have I turned my back on these staples of Thanksgiving, one might ask? To tell the truth, my thought process began when I told my best friend from high school my Thanksgiving plans this year. Upon hearing them, she was aghast.
“You’re not coming home? Your parents are going out to the East Coast to spend Thanksgiving with you? Oh no!!!” she cried.
“I know, I’ll miss you too! But I’ll see you during winter break!” I reassured her.
“No, that’s fine. It’s just that — with your dad gone, who’s going to make the turkey???”
Now, before you all start thinking my friend is a horribly selfish person who only cares about her own turkey cravings, please allow me to explain a bit. Every year, my best friend’s family, along with some other family friends and relatives, spends Thanksgiving at our house. While our guests contribute delicious side dishes and desserts, my father is always the one in charge of the turkey. He has tried many laborious methods over the years, with all manner of brines and seasonings and stuffings, but he has never failed to produce a beautiful, golden-brown, succulent bird. Understandably, no one else would wish to tackle the challenge of wrestling a 20-pound hunk of meat into some edible form, especially as the process takes more than a day’s worth of planning and preparation. Hence, my friend’s dismay was not entirely unfounded. (Also, she was — at least I hope — mostly kidding. I’ll give her the benefit of the doubt on this one).
Anyway, I relate this somewhat tangential story not to bore you with my family’s Thanksgiving escapades, but to ask why, exactly, the turkey is so important to a Thanksgiving celebration. I have never been particularly fond of turkey; it is perfectly fine in a deli sandwich, and I will usually consume a couple of slices during Thanksgiving, but in general I find it rather flavorless and dry. In addition, it is such a bother to prepare. I can think of much more enjoyable tasks than dunking a dead bird in a bucket of suspicious-looking brew overnight, extracting said bird’s bloody guts, and spending hours with a meat thermometer by the oven worrying about whether or not one will poison one’s guests with E. coli. My sentiments are similar for most traditional Thanksgiving foods; in fact, I cannot tolerate green bean casserole or yams with marshmallows, I am at best impartial to cranberry relish and pumpkin pie, and I truly detest gravy and stuffing. Indeed, I really only look forward to rolls, twice-baked potatoes, roasted butternut squash, and dessert. I could draw many conclusions from this, not least of which is that I should never go on a low-carb diet, but I suspect I am not the only one who has at best a lukewarm relationship with traditional Thanksgiving fare. In fact, I have yet to meet a single person with a fiery passion for turkey. As a result, I must ask: why bother? Why bother to worry about who will cook the turkey, who will mash the potatoes, and who will make the last-minute trip to the grocery store to buy a can of cranberry relish because there wasn’t time to make it from scratch? The point of Thanksgiving is to enjoy a delicious meal with one’s loved ones, not to cater to some checklist of what dishes should be on the table. If that enjoyment and gustatory delight comes at the expense of the turkey or the mashed potatoes or the gravy, so be it.
Of course, I readily acknowledge that in some households, the tradition of the dishes is part of the fun. “It wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without the turkey,” many might argue. “My grandmother makes the best pumpkin pie in the world,” others protest. To these people, I say, “Go ahead!” Without a doubt, it is perfectly wonderful to eat the stereotypical Thanksgiving meal if tradition plays a major role in the “feeling” of the holiday for you, or if you genuinely enjoy Thanksgiving dishes. I simply wish to point out that the meal should be a means to celebrate and appreciate one’s loved ones, not the absolute end. If the pressure to produce certain dishes for Thanksgiving impedes that spirit of togetherness and love (yes, it sounds corny, but I am not being facetious), then it is not worth it to tear one’s hair out over a funny-looking bird.
Also, for me at least, one of the best parts of Thanksgiving aside from spending time with my loved ones is, obviously, the food. Thanksgiving is undoubtedly a holiday centered around eating. Therefore, you might as well seize the opportunity to gorge on your favorite foods, whether those foods be turkey or tuna, potatoes or pad thai, cranberry relish, or kimbap. Eat what tastes good, not what “should” be eaten. If you have dietary restrictions, please do not bend over backwards to prepare something like vegan turkey or mashed cauliflower or sugar-free, gluten-free, nut-free, paleo pecan pie (unless you really, truly enjoy those foods or need to eat them for personal or religious reasons); instead, you should prepare the tastiest, most convenient dishes that adhere to those restrictions, because Thanksgiving should not be a reminder of the foods you cannot eat and the things you do not have, but a chance to remember the best parts and people of your life. In short, Thanksgiving should be a time to love and appreciate and feast and smile, not a time to run around like a turkey with its head cut off because someone burned the … er … turkey.
As it turns out, neither my friend nor I ate a “traditional” Thanksgiving feast this year. My family and I cooked soya chicken, fish, butternut squash, eggplant, and apple crisp together. My friend’s family enjoyed salmon and six different kinds of potatoes. I know I at least had a wonderful time talking and joking with my family and eating far too much for my poor stomach to handle. I would venture to say my friend felt the same, and that is truly all I ask of my Thanksgiving. Therefore, I beg my friend and anyone else who celebrates the holiday to please avoid freaking out next Thanksgiving: no one has to make the turkey.