Turkey: Beloved Seasonal Classic, or Far Inferior to Ham?
Photo via AP Images.
Kelly: Honestly, turkey is bad and we should
Turkey has been associated with Thanksgiving ever since Abraham
Lincoln officially declared it a national holiday. Every year,
the president marks the holiday by “pardoning” one of the
birds. Children nationwide make hand turkeys. The dish and the
day are practically synonymous at this point.
But we should abandon turkey, this trash bird, for ham—a
Why do we even turkey in the first place? Is there any other
time of the year you think to yourself, “Damn, what I’d love
right now is a big slab of turkey”? No! Our new colleagues at
provide the backstory.
Thanksgiving as we know it originated in New England. Its
earliest incarnations involved a special church service and
lots of speeches; it usually took place on Thursday, possibly
because that was market day when everyone would be in town
anyway. Gradually, New England Thanksgiving expanded to fill
the entire weekend, through Saturday night, with dances,
hunting parties and lots and lots of food. Originally turkey
was the bird of choice because, on the scale of luxury, it
ranked above the goose—but below the unforgivably decadent
swan and peacock. Later, everyone ate it because that was
what people had “always” eaten, even though wild turkeys were
virtually extinct by the time of the Revolution.
We eat turkey, in other words, out of cultural inertia. We eat
turkey because we think the Pilgrims sat down with the Native
Americans and split one during the first Thanksgiving. But we
know very well that rosy image of brotherhood and brightly
colored festive gourds straight out of a Home Goods is a false
one. Why cling to the turkey, too?
And honestly, have you looked at a turkey lately? Not
the perfectly respectable wild version, but the farm-grown
varieties, like the poor creatures pardoned at the White House
yesterday. Honestly, no offense to Drumstick, but yuck:
Consider instead the ham. The beautiful, glistening, baked ham.
How often do you get to eat a large ham? Not often enough, I
would wager. Why are we wasting one of our great (pardon the
pun) pig-out days on turkey, when we could earmark that day for
ham? An enormous ham with a perfect, golden candy crust.
Leftover ham sandwiches smeared with chutney. Oyster dressing
and gravy will go just as well with ham. In fact, it would go
better, because the sweet would pair so perfectly with the
savory. There is an actual phrase, “living
high on the hog,” that associates ham with the good life.
And there’s no folderol about white meat versus dark meat and
whether there’s enough of each for whoever wants it—there’s
Last year, for Christmas—my first away from home—my sister had
a HoneyBaked Ham delivered to my doorstep. A whole-ass
HoneyBaked Ham. It was the best gift I have ever received. All
I want for you is to know the simple joy that I felt, two weeks
postpartum, standing in front of an open refrigerator door,
pulling thick, cold slices straight off that foil-covered ham.
Down with turkey. Up with ham.
Aimée: My colleague has offered some
compelling points. But she is completely, totally wrong.
When I consider cannibalism (we’ve all considered it, don’t
pretend), I imagine that human flesh would have about the same
consistency, smell and flavor of a honeybaked ham. Too sweet,
moist, and chewy, with a strange pink color even though it’s
theoretically cooked. IS ham cooked?! It doesn’t look or taste
like it is. Kelly says it “glistens,” which makes ham sound
like an infected wound, or sweaty skin slathered in sunscreen.
I feel the same revulsion towards sliced ham as I would towards
a dismembered baby’s foot.
But let’s reflect on the noble turkey. Kelly asks if anyone
ever thinks, “Damn, what I’d love right now is a big slab of
turkey.” Hello, nice to meet you. I regularly go to the hot
meals counter at Whole Foods and demand a half-pound of turkey
in a container. I don’t even have them slice it: I tear it
apart with my hands for my next few lunches. As a teenager, I
ate stewed turkey over rice from the salad bar at the deli
after school while other kids were sucking down sour candy, and
yes, I was considered a freak.
Turkey has a far better texture than chicken, it’s a lean meat,
and when you eat the leg, you feel like a damn king. People
don’t go to the Renaissance Faire and order a cup of mead with
a side of cubed ham, for god’s sake!
(Sidebar: my roommate once ate the turkey leg from my
Thanksgiving leftovers, from a turkey I had
cooked, and I will never think about
the moment I went to the fridge and discovered it was gone
without experiencing white-hot rage.)
I would eat turkey even if there weren’t a national holiday
centered around animal sacrifice. But if we are assigning meats
to festivities, ham is an appropriate flesh for Easter, and
Easter only, because that holiday provides copious amounts of
chocolate as a counterbalance.
This is certainly a distressing conversation for the
vegetarians out there, and I will likely get bashed by them for
saying this, but I do make some choices about the meats I eat
based on basic animal intelligence. And though we will call it
anything else once it is dead, ham is a pig. And pigs are
easily as a smart as a large dog. I don’t eat pigs or
cephalopods or any other animal I think could beat me at chess
(including humans). The turkey may be an ugly weirdo, but I
genuinely think its too stupid to know literally anything.
That said, one of my resolutions for the new year is to
significantly reduce or eliminate animal products from my diet,
including meat. But the Thanksgiving turkey for 2017 is already
dead, and I will feast upon it until my grandmother looks
concerned. Gobble gobble.