Here in the Pacific Northwest people like to be connected to their food; where it comes from, how it’s raised, what toxic chemicals aren’t used to kill the bugs that live inside it. I’m from the land of granola-eaters and organic-fair-trade-shade-grown-coffee drinkers. People aren’t just eco-friendly, they are aggressively non-eco-hostile. My eighth grade teacher preached the benefits of consumer responsibility with stories about his time spent living off the land in the Oregon wilderness. I was unable to pick up too many pearls of wisdom because I tuned out as soon as he started in with the story on skinning an injured rabbit. “Just tidbits to help you on your life’s journey” he said. Ya, helpful maybe if I was intending to move to Appalachia and live off road kill. But that’s neither here nor there.
On Thanksgiving there is so much food around it is impossible to not consider where it came from. Some things are still pretty straight forward. Like the green bean casserole I created like magic entirely out of canned goods. Despite the simple deliciousness of the casserole, I don’t feel connected ethically or morally to this piece of preservative laden genius.
My mom, on the other hand, has a very involved relationship with our turkey. It’s intimate, raw (literally), and sometimes gets so graphic that I have to look away. It begins at the grocery store, where she finds the king turkey, the alpha male of the frozen poultry aisle. This is generally when I ask if everyone within a mile radius of our house is coming to dinner, that being the only logical reason for a turkey of that size.
Once home from the store the thawing process begins. Although seemingly simple enough to warrant a one-touch button on the microwave, thawing in my mother’s hands is a multi-step process that takes the attention of caring for an infant. The turkey is constantly checked on with maternal diligence and loving pokes and prods. It’s a frequent topic of conversation, ‘do you think the turkey is okay?’ ‘How do you think the turkey is doing?’ The rest of us just look at her blankly. ‘I’m sorry, mom, the turkey wasn’t alive when we first became acquainted, so I can’t really say…’ She doesn’t mind. She knows that none of us are on her level.
Then things get serious. Mom gets the pan ready and sizes up the toddler-sized bird floating in the sink. Her demeanor changes, the turkey is no longer something to be doted on, it’s something to be overcome. She looks at it like a worthy opponent, one that deserves respect but can be conquered. She greases her hands and starts rubbing the wrinkly, pale skin of the turkey with surprising strength and vigor for a woman of her size. The first time I saw this, I had to suppress a fit of dry heaves. My gag reflex was not prepared for the explicit scene happening in my kitchen. The stuffing step is done with speed and efficiency. And I have fewer mental images of this event because by this time I’m in the corner breathing into a paper bag.
Once the bird is in the oven, my mom feels as though she is rounding the final corner. The race is almost over and she is in the lead. My only remaining task is to rid my mind of a horrors I witnessed in time to eat the results of this exhausting process. Once I am dressed in my Sunday best, sitting in front of a plate of steaming Thanksgiving prizes, it is impossible to look at my plate and not see a fallen soldier. ‘I know what you’ve been through’ I think to myself as I stare into the shiny, brown bird stuffed with bread and celery. And all of a sudden I feel all too connected to my food.
Happy Thanksgiving. Bon Apetite.