Alysa Salzberg

Alysa Salzberg
Paris, France
December 31
Writer, copy editor, translator, travel planner. Head servant to my cat.
A reader, a writer, a fingernail biter, a cat person, a traveller, a cookie inhaler, an immigrant, a dreamer. …And now, self-employed! If you like my blog and if you're looking for sparkling writing, painstaking proofreading, nimble French-English translation, or personalized travel planning, feel free to check out


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NOVEMBER 22, 2012 11:46AM

My turkey trouble

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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.

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This is a slight re-working of something I posted two Thanksgiving's ago. Different time, a more promising time on OS...but my sentiments, from my hatred of turkey, to my love and gratitude for the friends I've made here, remain the same.

Happy Thanksgiving, to those who celebrate!
Fun post. It's not my favorite meal either, but once a year is fine. What upsets me is the thought of no fresh bagels in Paris.

Enjoy the day and whatever you decide to eat.
I read this out loud to my daughter and we both laughed til we cried! This is sad, hilarious, and I am sorry about your eye.
Alysa, that was quite a bout with stomach flu that you were hit with at that time and had the same thing happened to me I would have thought twice about having turkey the next time around! When I see the turkeys at the supermarket wrapped in plastic they seem so different visually from the wild turkeys we have here in our woods that are constantly active and quite friendly.

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving, Parisian-style and it's great to see your presence here!
I am in Canada where there Thanksgiving is in October.. I did make a chicken stew though.. This is the first I ever heard someone with a turkey dilemma but I understand :)
I haven't had a V8 for over a year for a similar reason. Bleh.

I don't really understand all of the fuss over Thanksgiving, either, but everyone I know did something today. Except me. :)
Okay, you don't like turkey, and that's cool. Turkey is rare here in Japan, but I enjoyed it when I lived in the US. Turkey (including stuffing), cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie are American originals and I'm surprised nobody's tried to market it around the world the way, say, sushi is.
What a fowl experience! Turkey is really not obligatory. When I was achild we always had turkey on Thanksgiving but the main dish was really the lasagna and many of us didn't eat the turkey at all.
Lady Lucia and I had our Thanksgiving dinner on the road. We got the turkey, cranberry sauce and stuff but I chose to have mine with spinach and roasted red potatoes instead of the usual sides. And I gave my stuffing to Lady L. because, though she likes it, I have always hated it and your description ("polyester pants") is quite apt, as far as I'm concerned.
Indeed, let us give thanks for chocolate and not getting sick from that!
I like all the TG food except I am neutral on the subject of turkey. I buy a turkey on sale the Saturday after TG every year. I roast it, carve it and make soup out of the carcass. I love turkey soup.

I miss you since OS has been what its been.
We were in Paris at Thanksgiving in the mid-90's and were so happy to find out on our way over that there were 5 restaurants celebrating Thanksgiving. Of course we had turkey. Our handsome French-speaking waiter turned out to be Irish....all the waitstaff had small US flags in their belts. It was fun.

Re stomach flu, I agree that chocolate cake would be a much worse loss!