Of all the crimes against nature Thanksgiving inspires — SUVs clogging the highways, planes shuttling fliers around the country, factory farms churning out millions of frozen turkeys — the most grievous may be culinary. First, the above-mentioned turkeys typically taste like sawdust; cranberry “sauce,” a gelatinous goo that ominously retains the shape of the can it slipped out of, doesn’t help much. The standard vegetarian response — a factory-shaped soybean log — may be a case of the cure trumping the disease in terms of sheer horror.
What, then, must you do, Grist reader? Here are three options for minimizing the environmental, and banishing the aesthetic, depredations of our fall holiday. (As for the infamous dysfunctional-family aspect of Thanksgiving, we recommend spiking the hot cider with St. John’s wort.)
1. WWAWD?: The Church of Alice Waters Thanksgiving
For a certain kind of green cooking enthusiast, the first question before embarking on any convivial feast is: What would Alice Waters do? Peering upon us from her Berkeley perch, the sustainable-food movement’s classy earth mother exhorts us to find the freshest, most delicious local ingredients and prepare them simply, with traditional techniques that let the ingredients shine.
Dame Waters would surely remind us that Thanksgiving has always been a celebration of the fall harvest. So it’s a perfect time to scout local farms for goods: pastured turkeys, winter squash, potatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots, hearty greens like kale and collards, apples and pears. If you’re in New England, the Northwest, or the Upper Midwest, you can probably find fresh cranberries. Get thee to the farmers’ market, to the nearby food co-op that makes a point of buying local!
Try to get as many heirloom varieties as possible, but don’t go overboard. Faced with the choice of a heritage-breed turkey shipped in from a distant state or a free-range, non-heritage bird from the farm up the road, take the latter.
Eat Wild can help you find pastured turkeys in your area, while Local Harvest will put you in touch with all manner of farms.
As for recipes, here is a nice spread from the excellent (and very Church of Alice) food magazine Fine Cooking. As for wine, if you can’t go local, go biodynamic. Somewhere, Alice Waters will be smiling.
2. A Heretic in Alice’s Church: The Brave Hedonist’s Thanksgiving
You revere Alice Waters and find her plea for eating local compelling. Yet, isn’t it all a bit earnest — and done? Can one really handle another roasted turkey — even if it’s cooked perfectly? Here is your manifesto.
By all means, scour the farmers’ market for ingredients — but who wants to let a bunch of Puritans dominate how we think of our only food-centered holiday? Rather than seek guidance from dour 17th century WASPs, even if filtered through Waters’ sensuous aesthetic, I direct your gaze across the Atlantic, to Spain’s Costa Brava, where lurks the deranged genius Ferran Adria.
This is the guy who turns stuff like scallops and asparagus into foam, who once served a chicken curry in which the chicken was liquid and the curry was solid. Granted, his latest cookbook would be a pricey impulse buy for this meal, but you can harness his spirit. (His website features a few highly descriptive articles about his style; and here are some freebie recipes.)
Astonish your guests by turning the turkey into a gelatin and roasting the cranberries. That big bag of collards? Blanch them, puree them up with some whole milk, strain, season, and then give them a whirl under the cappuccino maker’s wand. Voila! Collard foam.
3. Kill a Bird? Not So Fast: The Angry Vegan Thanksgiving
To go vegan or vegetarian in style, please don’t submit to the dominant culture by mimicking it with an atrocious and non-local tofu log. (Let’s be serious; those soybeans were probably grown on land in Brazil that was until recently pristine savanna.) You could, of course, merely adapt Church of Alice or Brave Hedonist recipes to remove taboo ingredients. But I have a more radical, and less time-consuming, idea.
Truly stick it to the man by staging a fast. Now’s your chance to try the “cleanse” that fellow in yoga — the one with the beatific grin and the thunderous “om” — has been babbling about. Instead of blowing a bunch of cash on groceries, buy a decent juicer and a big bag of organic carrots (you’re excused in this case for not buying local; few organic farms outside of California’s industrial-size ones can supply the sheer bulk of carrots you’ll need).
It’s the perfect statement to lay on your Butterball-cooking mother: “Sorry mom, I can’t make it to your consumption-fest. I’m fasting.”