A tweet came across my screen this morning announcing that today’s Martha Stewart show would feature a vegetarian Thanksgiving. “Excellent!” I thought. I know Thanksgiving no other way, but never thought that my way of serving Thanksgiving dinner would interest Martha Stewart! I tuned in, and was very impressed. Not only did she demonstrate various delicious looking vegetarian recipes, but she also discussed various issues surrounding our food choices in general, and some of the implications of meat eating in particular. She had as guests, “Food, Inc.” filmmaker, Robert Kenner, Joel Salatin, the “poster child” ecological farmer in Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals and “Food, Inc.” as well as author of several books on sustainable food production, vegetarian chef-restaurant owner Jeremy Fox, (who himself is a meat-eater, but prefers to work with vegetables), and Jonathan Saffron Foer discussing his latest book, Eating Animals. It was a very engaging conversation, during which Martha promoted some of my favorite food themes: “eat real stuff”, compare your food choices with what your grandmother cooked, find out where your food comes from, and choose organic and direct-from-the-farmer foods whenever possible.
While cooking one of her meatless dishes, Martha told her audience that she was going to have a vegetarian Thanksgiving this year. Martha is commonly considered “the definitive American woman of our time,” the premiere taste-maker of all things domestic, the American lifestyle guru. Vegetarianism, although much more common now than when I was the odd-ball meat-free kid in the 80s, is by no means popular in mainstream America. I have heard that only about 4% of the population does not eat meat. And I can imagine that some rest-of-the-year vegetarians might even get swept up in the traditional meal of that certain November Thursday and join the family in a bite of bird. But not Martha and her daughter Alexis. Not this year.
What does this mean for the most traditional meal in America?! Is not Thanksgiving sometimes simply referred to as “Turkey Day?” Is this not the one day of the year, when you know what’s for dinner? It seems a significant departure from a well established tradition, but it may also be exactly where we are today — high time for a significant departure from what we have been eating. The time for a shift to food choices (and a food system) about which we can feel thankful.
A few years ago, I was motivated to find out more about the history behind our Thanksgiving tradition. I quickly discovered that it has not always been about turkey and turkey only. More likely than not, the original harvest feast, included many varieties of meat, fowl, fish and seafood, as well as plenty of vegetables. The feast featured what was available. Of course, today, “available” includes just about everything possibly edible as our food travels the globe in order to land in our supermarkets, but if the focus this Thanksgiving on what is available from a source that we really feel good about, we can easily eliminate the vast majority of what sits on supermarket shelves. To clear up any confusion, spend a couple of hours watching “Food, Inc.” and the difference between foods which bring up feelings of disgust, repulsion and shame due to how they are produced, and those (identified with phrases such as fair-trade, ecologically-grown, organic, pasture-raised, free-range, etc.) which both fill the belly and satisfy the soul (or “sole” = sustainable, organic, local and ethical) becomes apparent.
As pleased as I am that Martha Stewart has put her stamp of approval on a meatless Thanksgiving dinner, I am not necessarily advocating for vegetarian Thanksgiving dinners to be held across the country. Within today’s food system, being a mindful eater does not have to mean adopting a vegetarian or vegan diet, but since the availability of ecologically and humanely-treated animal food is so limited, it is an easy and understandable choice.
As I started writing this afternoon, I noticed a car coming to a stop in the bend in the road just outside my window. It made me look up, even though, this time of year, this happens several times a day. It’s hunting season and directly across the street is a large clearing along side a small river. A favorite place for wildlife and as I looked down by the river, I could see the gaggle of wild turkeys that this driver had spotted. He had his binoculars out and was taking a closer look. As happy as I am that the land is posted, making hunting illegal (so I did not have to witness the attack) I also want to support those Americans who are out hunting their turkey. My objection to conventional turkey and therefore my enthusiasm for Martha’s alternative choice, is the ugly industrialization of raising animals for food, not the food itself.
Grist recently covered the conventional turkey industry (where the bird you buy in the supermarket comes from) and the options for a higher quality heritage breed.
If you are inspired to follow in Martha’s footsteps and try something different this year, check out the recipes on this site, and follow the links to several others for delicious ideas you will likely go back to year after year.