As sure as the autumn leaves and Black Friday “deals,” you can bank on the holiday season spawning dozens of articles touting alternatives to traditional holiday fare.
Most of them are simply vapid vegetarian makeovers of what the rest of us are enjoying on Thanksgiving—and usually not very appetizing ones at that. Like the “Mushrooms and White Bean Loaf” that one veggie website insisted was “so tasty no one will know the difference” (allegedly) between some mushroom-mush concoction and real turkey.
But one such approach to altering the routine of planning and procurement that typifies holiday meal preparation actually made some sense—and not just because the writer didn’t advance the idea that tofu, almond paste and soy sauce can headline a holiday dinner.
However, the story didn’t start out very promising. Titled, “Why We Don’t Eat Beef for Thanksgiving,” it would have been easy to assume it was yet another veggie screed condemning animal foods and the villains who produce them—especially since it appeared in the noted lefty mag Mother Jones.
Instead, the author, Maddie Oatman, suggested that the logic we apply to produce—that fruits and vegetables are best eaten in-season—also applies to farm animals. More precisely, to the process of farming animals.
We all know the lyrical version of such seasonality: “To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven.” But do those cosmic rhythms apply not just to “a time to plant, a time to reap” but to a time to harvest livestock, as well?
“Farm animals respond to temperature and light,” Oatman wrote. “In fact, some food experts believe that we should wait for the right season to eat fresh meat. Cultures throughout history have slaughtered animals at certain times of year, and many of our traditional holiday meals—Thanksgiving turkey and Easter ham—came from this practice. Steak also was once an autumn delicacy: After the first frost, ranchers would flood the market with steers fattened on summer’s pastures.”
True enough, as far as it goes.
There certainly were historical constraints on year ’round livestock production throughout the 19th and most of the 20th century—not because of Biblical strictures about the timing of animal feeding and harvesting cycles to align with the seasons, but because the lack of tools, technology and transportation infrastructure were hugely limiting factors.