Confession: I'm a Vegetarian Who Loves Turkey

November 25, 2015

Thanksgiving used to be about things like peace, Pilgrims, and Native Americans. Somewhere in recent history, it became a holiday devoted to hating on turkey.

Photo by James Ransom

This time every year, bloggers come out of the woodwork to stir up a stale debate. Turkey tastes bad, they write. There's a reason it's only eaten on Thanksgiving. It's inferior to chicken. The late Joshua Ozersky once said brashly of Thanksgiving turkey:

"It's as if we invited an angry, abusive midget to our home to call out everyone's secret sins and then defecate on the carpet, and then invited him back the next year."

I, for, one am a turkey defender, and it feels like a lonely club to be in. Even Google couldn't help me. While conducting research for this article, I learned that the reasons people love turkey are as follows:

1) It's not quite Europe, yet not quite Asia.
2) Istanbul is beautiful.

Photo by Mark Weinberg

So let me go out on a limb and say that Thanksgiving will be one of the hardest meals of the year for me, because I'm a vegetarian and I love turkey. In fact, I stopped eating meat seven years ago this week, with the thought that if I could resist a Thanksgiving turkey I could make it as a vegetarian.

There are a number of reasons why I think turkey is the king of fowl (I never really liked chicken, which I consider to be turkey's bland cousin). For one, its meat has an intense flavor; the legs and thighs, if cooked in the right way, can be juicy, salty, and fatty like a tonkotsu broth. The skin, depending on technique, can be crispy or melt-in-your-mouth buttery.

Photo by James Ransom

Second, turkey isn't an everyday bird, and that's part of what makes it special. According to the National Turkey Federation (yes, America has a turkey lobby), nearly one-fourth of the 200 million turkeys we eat every year are consumed on Thanksgiving. Christmas and Easter together account for another 20 percent.

Growing up in a Jewish household, turkey was a once-a-year event. The entire holiday basically revolved around the bird. My father, who doesn't typically spend a great deal of time cooking, would start Thanksgiving one or two days before everyone else, cleaning out an ancient cooler and preparing it with salt, spices, and other special ingredients to serve as a brine bath. Some years when we had 20 or more guests, he would prepare two turkeys in different ways. And then of course there's the performance of cutting the turkey (how many meals today involve such a build-up?).

Photo by James Ransom

This is all to say that turkey on Thanksgiving is an unusually anticipated meal. It's also a weird meal: For most people, it's the only time that cranberry sauce and stuffing is on the menu. At my house, it's the only time my mom will pick apart her favorite food—turkey neck—and share pieces of it with our odd cat (my family is full of turkey lovers).

So while this will be another Thanksgiving without turkey on my plate, I can say without a doubt that it's the one meal I miss the most. Let's end the turkey hate.

Photo by James Ransom

Do you love turkey or do you hate it? Share your feelings in the comments.


Kore W. November 26, 2015
We dry-brined and splatched (cut the spine out and lay it flat) and fresh turkey and it was the best turkey any of us had ever had, even the mostly vegetarian finicky husband ate it and loved it. Thank you for all your helpful ideas this year !
ChefJune November 25, 2015
I've always loved turkey. Our whole family did/does. That may partly be because my mom's turkeys were never dry, always succulent. She always bought the largest one she could find (or a second bird) because we love(d) the leftovers. One of my favorite winter party dishes is Turkey Tetrazzini, and there is never any left.
scott.finkelstein.5 November 25, 2015
I'm from a Jewish household in which the matriarh doesn't eat red meat, so it's turkey four or so times a year (the Pessach seders, thanksgiving, Rosh Hashana). Always cooked the same way (simply), always moist.<br /><br />Thanksgiving in itself is interesting in that it's the only time of year in which people eat New England cuisine. I wonder if we'll ever see a repeat of the 1900's fad for the regional cuisine.
Chef D. November 25, 2015
A vegetarian that loves turkey? thouse are two conflicting ethoses...
creamtea November 25, 2015
There are no bad turkeys. Just badly cooked turkeys.
Sarah J. November 25, 2015
Alex W. November 25, 2015
Lauren November 25, 2015
My thoughts exactly!
Sarah J. November 25, 2015
Don't blame the player, blame the game.
Ali S. November 25, 2015
Not bad weather, just bad clothes.