Turkey Day

A year ago, I spent the Sunday before Thanksgiving “harvesting” my Thanksgiving turkey. I’d planned to do it again this year, until I learned that the farm didn’t have turkeys available this year.

I was secretly relieved that there would be no turkey harvest this year. I’d been feeling anxious about it. I still felt unsure about my ability to decisively and quickly kill the bird, although I knew the people at the farm would be there to make sure the bird wasn’t suffering unnecessarily.  And the memories from that day are still vivid and sobering. A local farm recently brought (live) heritage turkeys to the Saturday farmers market and when I looked at the birds, I thought back to that rainy day on the farm. I remembered the weight of the turkey as I squatted over it and how the thick skin on its neck had resisted the blade of my knife. I thought about how the bird tried to flap its wings and stretch its neck before it died. It’s no small thing to kill a turkey.

I wasn’t looking forward to the gutting process either. Just thinking about separating the bird’s esophagus from the rest of the neck – and how it looked like a plastic straw — still makes me feel a little nauseous.

Initially, I wondered if my apprehension meant that I wasn’t really hard-core about knowing where my food comes from, but I soon realized that it was appropriate to feel uncomfortable and anxious about killing an animal.

Although I was relieved, I was also a little disappointed that I wouldn’t get to participate in this American ritual this year. Farmers all across the country are harvesting their turkeys this time of year so that the rest of us can swing by the market and ponder the importance or fresh versus frozen, or whether 10-pound bird will be enough to feed a crowd and still have turkey sandwiches for the day after.

That day on the farm last November offered me a connection to the meal that most people don’t get to experience. Most of us pull up a chair and eat turkey on Thanksgiving. Some of us are involved in preparing the bird for the oven — washing it, maybe brining it or rubbing its skin with butter—and others are involved in cooking process. (My mom always pours a little brandy over the bird while it roasts and then makes a delicious gravy from the drippings.) Someone usually takes charge of carving the burnished bird and passing around a platter of white meat and dark meat. But relatively few of us get to know anything about the bird beyond these preparations.

I learned a lot about the turkey I killed last year. I saw where it lived. I was there when it died. I gently removed its feathers (I still have one at home) and helped remove its internal organs. It will be different this year to cook and eat a bird that someone else killed and gutted so that I could avoid those uncomfortable but necessary tasks.

Many people call Thanksgiving ‘Turkey Day’, but that day on the farm last year, that was a real turkey day. This year, I’ll just have Thanksgiving.

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