Illustration by Tim Bower
For most of human history, ritual meals have centered on the sacrifice of an unblemished lamb, goat, or teenage girl who would have been better off blemishing with the first guy who asked. Yet for our nation’s harvest festival we proudly present a lump of recently frozen, factory-farmed meat that’s so cheap, some grocery stores give it away as a loss leader just to sell boxes of stuffing. These turkeys combine the tastelessness of chicken with the dryness of Pilgrim-on-Pilgrim sex.
That’s why, for the past three years, I’ve ordered a heritage turkey at about $10 a pound from McCall’s Meat & Fish Company in Los Feliz. How do I feel about paying $100 for a turkey? I could say I feel smart because the air-chilled meat is denser than the normal water-chilled variety. I could say that I feel justified, since $100 is a lot less than you’d pay for restaurant entrées for your extended family. Instead I will tell the truth: I feel superior.
For I am feasting. I am eating a turkey that tastes dark and gamey—more Indian than Pilgrim. To achieve my meal I have not relied on the gluttonous Americanisms of deep frying or shoving a duck up something’s ass, and then a chicken up the duck’s ass, followed by sausage up the chicken’s ass—and then being sad that sausage doesn’t have an ass. I have hunted for the unblemished lamb, or more accurately, paid some guy to pay another guy to pay some underpaid workers to treat turkeys better than they are. And with only about 25,000 heritage breeds raised annually, I am technically experiencing the thrill of eating an endangered species.
Heritage breeds have noble names such as Narragansett, Black Spanish, and Bourbon Red, whereas the supermarket’s Broad-Breasted White has an acronym meant for fetish porn sites. Mine is the turkey of the Framers, of the indigenous Americans, and of those Pilgrims whose names I knew in elementary school and have since forgotten, though I remember at least one of them was named John. Yours is the turkey of America’s mass-produced decline. If this is how you choose to celebrate freedom, that’s your choice. I’ll be searching for heritage cranberries, yams, and pumpkins. Live heritage or die.