I have this friend, a certain Mr. Snotty McSnobster, which, if you can believe it, is not his real name, and with whom I disagree on just about everything… except maybe the reigning superiority of cheese as the world’s perfect food.
When he says “slow-food eating locavore” the words are dripping with derision; when I say them, they’re meant to be a compliment. While I make a weekly trip to the farmers’ market to buy as much produce and proteins as I can fit into reusable, non-plastic bags, ol’ Snotty eats hamburgers flown in from Hamburg with French fries cut from French potatoes just so he can brag about it. And he wouldn’t be caught dead with a $2 bag on his shoulder!
Last week, the Snobster and I met up for a Sunday brunch (and some uncommonly inspired Bloody Mary’s) at Prune in the East Village. When the conversation turned to what we’d be cooking for the upcoming Turkey Day we will be sharing together tomorrow, I was ready for a spar. I was ready for him to be flying a turkey in from Sonoma, or for shock value, Turkey. Instead, I listened in quiet surprise as he outlined a totally seasonal, local menu: yams, kale, cranberries, mashed potatoes and both pumpkin and apple pies for dessert. But I guess that’s the magic of Thanksgiving! It’s the year’s most sustainable holiday, and the one day when it turns out Snotty and I actually agree on more than just taleggio.
I don’t know if that old tale about the pilgrims and the Indians sitting around a table decorated with bulbous squash and multi-colored corn cobs in celebration of the harvest is actually true, (sounds a bit like History Class bullshit to me), but it doesn’t really matter. What is true is that Thanksgiving is the one holiday that inspires Americans to feast on the stuff that’s actually ripe and meant to be eaten right now. As President Obama would say, “It’s a teachable moment!” This Thursday, everyone from Snotty McSnobster, who for one night will stow away his imported truffles and French burgundies, to your Great Uncle Billy in Nebraska, who’s usual idea of dinner is Stouffer’s Lasagna, is going to cook as we should all be cooking every night. Seasonally. Locally. Green.
When I asked my snotty dining companion what he’d be doing for a main course, the answer, again, ushered in surprise. “I’ve reserved a heritage bird from Thornwood Farms in upstate New York. I’m picking it up from the greenmarket on Wednesday.” What? No Hungarian Squab? No Alsatian emperor duck? What were they putting in these Bloody Mary’s? Before I could fully express my delight, he insisted, “Don’t worry, I haven’t gone all ‘green’ on you, but these heritage birds taste a million times better than the Butterball turkeys you get wrapped in plastic.”
Ah-hah! As with Alice Waters, it was taste not politics that in the end got McSnobster eating green.
There are dozens of ethical reasons to buy not just your Thanksgiving turkey, but all your meat as locally as possible: the animals are treated better, since there are less hormones and antibiotics in the meat it’s healthier for you, supporting local farmers and local economies has a direct impact on community development, and organic, small-scale farming is far better for the earth. But you can ignore all that sound advice if you want, since from a purely palette pleasing, self-indulgent standpoint, heritage turkey just tastes better.
Heritage breed, grain-fed birds offer richer, more delicate meat with a natural gameiness that simply cannot be beat. These birds are often smaller and less plump in the breast, as they have not been genetically modified to be top heavy, and as such, can actually run around, getting plenty of exercise and building up a much more muscular frame. They wander freely, eating wildly, and tasting beautifully of the full diet and life they’ve lived. This time of year they’re pretty widely available online and at farmers’ markets, and often not much more expensive than your standard super market variety. Try a heritage turkey or chicken or guinea hen, and both your conscience and your taste buds will thank you.
“I’m not doing it to save the planet,” Snotty continued, “I’m just a total snob.” Once again, and for what may be the last time, we found ourselves in complete agreement. Gobble, Gobble!