I’m just going to put it out there: I hate Thanksgiving.
I don’t hate togetherness and giving thanks. I just hate the food.
Unlike holidays like Halloween or Easter, where candy plays an important role, or Christmas, with its abundance of delicious meal possibilities, Thanksgiving’s culinary prospects are bleak for me.
The problem is that, like it or not, Thanksgiving usually involves turkey or some sort of turkey-flavored product, at some point.
I could just shut up about it and focus on the side dishes, but I hate most of those, too. Cranberry sauce has a weird texture; stuffing tastes like polyester pants; and sweet potatoes – don’t even get me started on how much I hate them, yet how all my life I’ve had people doing magic tricks to try to get me to ingest them (latest trick: last time we were in the U.S., my mother took us to a restaurant and ordered sweet potato fries).
But I’m not here to gripe about the side dishes. My problems with them are minor, compared to my turkey trouble.
Growing up, I wasn’t really a fan of this bird. The rest of my family ate it happily in sandwiches and such, but I avoided it. I’ve always been picky about poultry in general, and turkey was near the top of my “don’t like” list. Regardless of how I’ve had it prepared, it still has that turkey aftertaste. At Thanksgiving, I’d take a small sliver out of respect for tradition, then stuff myself on dinner rolls.
But then, something happened. I found a copy of Emile Zola’s L’Assommoir in a used bookstore. In this book, there are at least two scenes in which poor families celebrate a bit of luck by having a delicious turkey dinner. This is going to sound made up or exaggerated, but I swear those delectable descriptions suddenly made me like turkey.
I’m not going to say “love,” and that should show, too, that I’m not lying about this. But in my heady, post-Assommoir period, I could actually eat and mildly enjoy a turkey dinner. When I celebrated my first Thanksgiving in Paris a few years later, we couldn’t find a whole turkey, and had to eat processed slices of it instead – and I did, and with cranberry sauce on top, to boot! Zola is truly an amazing writer; I've read books that have made me laugh or cry or ponder the mysteries of the universe, but this is thus far the only book that made me like a meal I previously detested.
I rode the turkey wave for a few years, until in February of 2004, it came abruptly crashing to shore.
A stomach flu whose powers I couldn’t imagine was spreading itself through northern New Jersey, where I was visiting my father and stepmom. After a nice turkey dinner, I sleepily turned in for the night.
While I slept the sleep of the innocent and well-fed, the stomach flu crept like a burglar into my digestive system, where it proceeded to jostle and wreak havoc with my stomach, perhaps looking for hidden riches.
If you’re disgusted by vomit, please skip this paragraph. If you’re impressed by it, please read on. Over the course of the next day, I vomited so much that I popped a blood vessel in my right eye. And every time I vomited, there, like a bad memory, was the faint taste of the last thing I’d eaten: turkey.
That day, my feelings about turkey went from acceptance, to dislike, to literal repugnance. Since then, it hasn't budged. Today, just smelling a turkey cooking takes me back to the toilet. I’ve tried to like it again, but to no avail.
I thought that maybe a totally different style of preparation might help, but nope. At a New Year's party a few years ago, my dear friend, A., who's never made anything I haven’t liked, cooked a turkey seasoned with exotic spices. Her other guests were over the moon about the taste. I tried politely not to look green.
As Thanksgiving approaches in Paris, a strange thing happens: all of the turkeys disappear. The American expatriate population makes a run on butcher shops, markets, and grocery stores. As my friends and I had learned all those years ago, if you don’t pre-order a turkey weeks in advance, you’ll be stuck eating flavored lunchmeat. If you’re lucky.
But in this matter, I’m better than lucky. There are many things I miss about America, among them readily available fresh bagels, Wal-Mart, and nearly omnipresent air-conditioning -- but traditional Thanksgiving foods aren’t on the list.
That said, though the holiday is about so much more than eating, I don’t really see the point in celebrating it. I don’t know yet what I’ll be eating for dinner tonight, but you can bet it won’t be turkey.
Still, I do always take time on Thanksgiving to give thanks for the many blessings I have. I’m thankful for family, friends, life in a city I love, books, the internet, OS and the pals I've met here, literacy, hope, writing, art, “Jersey Shore” – the list goes on. Among the things for which I'm most grateful is that the night I got that stomach flu, we hadn’t had chocolate cake. Life without turkey is easy – but life without chocolate would be downright foul.