by Gary North
In a recent essay, Jeffrey Tucker observed: “turkey isn’t delicious.” He then went on at considerable length to show how to make a meal of turkey more delicious — and how not to cook the bird. He misses the point. He confuses ends with means.
Mr. Tucker knows a lot about preparing turkey. I don’t. I do know a lot about eating turkey. And let me say from the start: Thanksgiving dinner is not about eating turkey. It’s about stuffing yourself with a high-fat, low-nutrition food that is socially questionable except at Thanksgiving and Christmas. Thanksgiving dinner is a revered middle-class celebration in America precisely because the middle class won’t allow itself the culinary debauchery of a food that lower-class families in the South have delighted in for three centuries, several times a week. That food is gravy. I don’t mean wimpy, light-colored turkey juice gravy. I mean thick, brown, clogs-your-arteries gravy.
Do we use lots of gravy on a plate full of turkey? Of course. Why? Because we like gravy. Turkey is a socially acceptable excuse to eat gravy, in the same way that artichoke leaves are a socially acceptable excuse to eat mayonnaise or melted butter. I mean, what socially conscious middle-class American would, in full public view, ladle out a plate of gravy and then consume it, spoonful by spoonful? But fork after fork of gravy smothering pieces of turkey are part of the annual ritual.
But couldn’t you use a piece of bread to sop up the gravy, which would be a whole lot less trouble and a lot cheaper than buying a 22-pound turkey? In the rural South, yes. Not elsewhere. So non-Southerners have a substitute. It’s called a hot turkey sandwich. You can also eat a mayonnaise sandwich, which lots of people do this time of year. It’s called a cold turkey sandwich. Leftover turkey’s main function is to enable us to enjoy another round of foods that we refuse to eat without a socially acceptable excuse.
Turkey is also about freedom of choice. “Would you like white meat or dark meat?” White meat means a double portion of gravy, because white meat is dry if the cook has aimed at producing decent dark meat. The cook is always entitled to this excuse for dry white turkey: “But I followed the recipe!” She did, indeed. White turkey meat is dry because it has so little fat in it. So, it’s socially acceptable to load up on gravy. A gravy-loving, socially conscious person cannot easily justify a lot of gravy on dark meat. So, he or she chooses white meat.
With Thanksgiving dinner, we also get to eat mashed potatoes, which call out dryly for another ladle of gravy. So, it’s two for the price of one.
No; it’s actually three: don’t forget about the dressing. And here’s the great part: you are allowed to heap gravy on top of really high-fat dressing — as Tucker says, dressing made with pig. Thanksgiving dinner is hog heaven for gravy lovers, which means most of us.
When it comes to Thanksgiving dinner, one phrase comes to mind: “Everything extra is gravy.”
Turkey is to gravy what pumpkin is to sugar. It justifies an indulgence. Pumpkin, like turkey, is good for you. But can you imagine anyone actually wanting to eat cooked orange vegetable in a crust? Not without a boat load of sugar! But sugar is on the outs these days in health-conscious circles, in the same way that gravy is out. So, Americans eat orange vegetable pie at Thanksgiving. With whipped cream. It’s socially acceptable. It’s even expected.
You think I’m kidding. Well, if you do, try a helping of sugar-free canned cranberry sauce. See how tasty that is. Wash it down with a glass of skim milk. (A milk chaser is ghastly enough with sugared cranberry sauce.)
Thanksgiving dinner is about consuming otherwise socially unacceptable quantities of gravy and sugar. Turkey, pumpkin, and cranberries serve as justifications for eating what we really want, but find it socially unacceptable to eat by themselves.
“Honey, please pass me the gravy dish. I’ve got a plate full of white meat here.”
“All right, but save room for dessert. I’ve baked a high-nutrition orange vegetable pie.”
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