Never in the 390 year history of Thanksgiving in America have so many turkeys been roaming the land. Unfortunately, most of them are political – Republican presidential candidates gobbling nonsense, the congressional super committee that failed to carve up the debt bird, a punditocracy sated with itself even before sitting at the table – so there is no cause for the traditional celebration this year.
It is all a far cry from 1621, when the Wampanoag Indians joined the Mayflower Pilgrims in Plimoth Colony, Massachusetts, to consume wild turkey with other bounties from land and sea, none certified as safe by any government agency.
Being primitive folk, neither had thought of factory-farmed turkeys as wild ones were plentiful. They still were 150 years later when Benjamin Franklin proposed they be designated the national bird, rather than the bald eagle, which is better looking but, he believed, of low character (it steals the fruits of others’ labour, a bit like Wall Street today).
You can still see little families of wild turkeys waddling around the woods of America, occasionally dodging the hail of AK-47 bullets shot at them by the hunting fraternity. But nobody would think of putting them in the Thanksgiving groaning board because they are tough and stringy. (My wife claims to have made wild turkey gumbo, but she partly hails from Louisiana where Cajuns eat anything that moves, suitably spiced up.)
Civilisation having advanced, there is now a cornucopia of turkeys in the market place. In Washington they range in price from the frozen butterball, 58 cents a pound in the Georgetown “social” Safeway, to $3.99 at Whole Foods, the upmarket chain whose top-of-the-line birds have been organically raised, massaged and groomed and never force-fed growth hormones.
There are umpteen choices in between: “all natural”, pre-brined, smoked and breast-only for the delicate souls who cannot abide dark meat. There is also something called “tofurkey” for vegans and the immortal “turducken”, best cooked in a big vat of boiling oil, preferably not in the average kitchen.
But they are all just turkeys. In fact, in today’s parlous economic times, there is a lot to be said for the butterball (even though I was not allowed even to think about buying one). A 20lb bird would cost $11.60, or about four “happy meals” at McDonalds, and could feed a family good protein for a week.
It is irresistibly tempting to try and place today’s politicians and pundits in the Thanksgiving context. Although lean and hungry, Mitt Romney is the most obvious butterball, feeding the masses with words and promises that may change daily but are always easily digestible – and replaceable after Thanksgiving, when butterballs are even cheaper.
By contrast, Newt Gingrich clearly identifies with the Whole Foods bird, expensive (but lobbyists can afford it on the Freddie Mac dollar), vain and plumped up with the good things of life, like Tiffany’s. Rush Limbaugh actually looks like this turkey.
Rick Perry, Herman Cain and Michele Bachmann consider themselves “all natural,” never force-fed anything as artificial as the political, even though they are, or have been, a governor, a lobbyist and a congresswoman respectively. Unfortunately, they have also been smoked out on the campaign trail and/or their brains have been brined in the waters of Lethe.
The super committee is the quintessence of turducken, having failed to stuff the turkey with duck and then chicken because its Republican chef, Grover Norquist, doesn’t believe in taxing birds. As a result, its members are now being boiled in oil. Ron Paul, bless his libertarian soul, is a tofurkey, also popular in the flat earth community.
Barack Obama, who gets on well with the prime minister of Turkey but has to eat Michelle’s organic veggies at home, does not get off scot-free. It is his constitutional duty as president to “pardon” a Thanksgiving turkey. This bird then gets to go off and live out its life in peace, unless mowed down by AK-47 bullets, an appropriate fate, either way, for our political turkeys.
As for us, I bought a 12lb bird, all natural but not otherwise privileged, at $2.49 a lb from Costco (which also has a good deal on sweet potatoes). That seemed to reflect where we are – middle of the road, in the 99 per cent, limited freezer space for the left-overs etc. What I spend on the wine is nobody’s business but my own, but Trader Joe’s, where childless yuppies and wrinklies shop, has some good deals this week.