Why is it that on the holiday devoted to thankfulness we eat our least-favorite food? I’m not talking about the “sides” — the stuffing, cranberry sauce, whipped potatoes and pies. I’m talking about that big bird sitting in the center of the table. According to research of most popular foods conducted by the USDA in 2014, turkey isn’t even a contender.
What do researchers say we love most? Pizza, fried chicken and Oreos. Tell the truth. Who among your guests would throw down their napkin in anger if you deep-sixed the thirteen-pound turkey and served up cheese-crusted pizza with “everything,” a bucket of KFC, and America’s most beloved cookies? Sure, some traditionalists would balk. But imagine the radiant smiles on the children’s faces, to say nothing of the gratitude of the red-eyed, giggling teenagers who just passed a bong in the basement.
Now about that pizza. Our affection for flat bread slathered with tomato sauce, cheese, and whatever is right up there with our love of baseball and cars. Those USDA researchers found out that you, the average American, consume 11.5 pounds of Mozzarella per year. And you wonder why those jeans don’t fit?
Getting back to our pathological attachment to turkey at Thanksgiving, I am not sure we can continue to blame it on Native Americans. So they gave the Pilgrims a gift of a huge, ugly bird in 1621. Does that mean we need to eat it once a year in perpetuity? No way. I blame the National Turkey Federation, a Washington, D.C., lobby intent on getting turkey on the menu even if they have to disguise it as a Margarita. Its website suggests serving turkey nachos, turkey kabobs, and something called turkey meatloaf muffins.
Here is another reason to ban the bird from your Thanksgiving celebration. Cooking it is a nightmare. Don’t believe me? Ask your mom. While the menfolk are gathered around the TV watching the game, Mom, Grandmom and your aunties are in the kitchen commiserating over the impossibility of getting a turkey to come out fully cooked, yet juicy, with a crisp, golden skin. Let alone trying to get it to even fit into the oven. The task involves endless thawing, basting, debating, praying, tears, and novenas. Plus, a shot or two of Wild Turkey.
I asked friends who have dutifully prepared turkey dinners for Thanksgiving for decades what they’d really like to serve. Here’s what they said:
I don’t understand turkey. It’s boring. Once my family discovered you would not be arrested if you ate something else for Thanksgiving, we switched to pork.—Susan, Norwalk, CT.
I’m pretty sure that the first Thanksgiving meal was lobster, not turkey. That’s what I’d like. —Sarah, Ashland, VA.
My whole family hates turkey but loves Thanksgiving. This year, I will be making several roast chickens. I also hate sweet potatoes due to a childhood overdose of them. Instead, I serve roasted slices of squash baked with maple syrup. This year I am also going to make baked mashed potatoes in a casserole dish with a crispy topping of fried onions or shallots. I need to have stuffing, so I make one that is more like a savory bread pudding with Italian sausage, garlic, parmesan cheese, mushrooms, and onion. —Lisa, Stowe, VT
Pasta with pesto sauce with Italian sausage, green salad, corn, rosemary garlic, and chocolate bundt cake with vanilla ice cream. I’d eat this every Thanksgiving if I could! —Terri, Burbank, CA
I’ll take lamb chops. —Ilene, Marlton, NJ.
I would just serve cranberry sauce, Brussel sprouts, pumpkin pie, chocolate pecan pie and warm apple cider! —Francine, Bryn Mawr, PA
I’d go for a dish that is a real treat, such a filet mignon, lobster and whatever vegetarians consider enticing or extraordinary! —Diane, Roxborough.
Roast beef with Yorkshire pudding, or a beautiful crown rack of lamb, mashed potatoes, green beans, chocolate mousse or creme brulée. —Allen, Royalston, MA
Cuban-seasoned roast loin of pork, black beans, rice, collards, and flan. —Ana, Los Angeles, CA
Salmon with cucumber sauce and spinach lasagna. —Jane, Clifton Heights.
Mashed potatoes, green beans, sweet potatoes, toasted Brussels sprouts, cranberry orange relish, pumpkin pie. —Patricia, Lansdowne
Impossible! —Mary, Wyndmoor.
As for my own family, we’ll have whatever is on the menu at our favorite Chinese restaurant. Nothing makes me feel more grateful than a steaming bowl of hot and sour soup, shrimp with black bean sauce, a fortune cookie and a sparkling clean kitchen waiting for me at home.