Consider this opening to an email appeal from Farm Forward, and see if you can decipher their politics:
“Every Thanksgiving, we gather with our family and friends to celebrate what we’ve been thankful for during the past year. Thanksgiving also invites us to reflect on the food we put on the table. For those of us who oppose the cruelty and waste of factory farming, the traditional turkey (approximately 97% of turkeys are produced on factory farms) is an unbefitting centerpiece for the holiday.
“Absence of turkey can be a very positive thing,” says New York Times food columnist and author of Food Matters Mark Bittman. “Most people have roughly 360 dinners a year that have ‘absence of turkey.’ We eat it on Thanksgiving because we’re supposed to.”
(The appeal—shockingly!—is to fork over money for the cause, as if you didn’t know that).
Except for the very first sentence, I take exception to virtually every word in that statement.
It’s getting to be tiresome when critics routinely toss out the “factory farming” epithet, then follow up with “cruelty, waster, abuse, eco-damage”—even food safety complaints, as if the strict biosecurity and controlled environment in a modern growout facility were somehow the source of the food-borne illness with which we occasionally have to contend.
Mr. Bittman loves to style himself as a “critic,” like a movie reviewer, somebody who’s knowledgeable, objective, even-handed in his analysis of the issues affecting food production and nutrition. But his take on Thanksgiving—we eat turkey because “we’re supposed to”—is outrageous and blatantly biased. C’mon, Mark. We eat turkey on Thanksgiving because we enjoy it. Heck, we love it!
In fact, the reason that the other 359 dinners a year don’t feature whole-bird turkey more often is that the preparation and cooking required are laborious. Few people have the luxury of hours in the day to prepare a bird, stuff it and then get it in the oven four to five hours before dinner time.
Whenever supermarkets have specials on turkey breasts or when fresh turkey is pre-cooked and portioned, however, it sells remarkably well. The dearth of turkey at meal occasions other than the holidays is a matter of convenience, not culinary preference.
That’s because the enduring popularity of a roast turkey as the centerpiece of Thanksgiving is a testament to the value we assign to having nutritious—and delicious—meat on our plates during holiday meal. Far from being an “unbefitting centerpiece” on Thanksgiving, the turkey is a symbol of our gratitude for having abundant food and for the bounty we enjoy as Americans all 365 days of the year.