My Chinese-American friend Mary, a foodie in her own right, was complaining that this year, yet again, it is the season to perform mass slaughtering of Big Bird. Not that she cares for animals that much. She simply laments having to eat them.
With her eyes full of lust and envy, she sibilated, "Ah, you French people. You know better. You don't eat turkey." And she's right, at least partially. We, French people, don't eat turkey for Thanksgiving, for the simple reason that we don't celebrate Thanksgiving. I proceeded on doing a little unscientific survey and I found that more than 100 percent of my American friends believe that the French don't eat turkey. Ever!
My aforementioned Chinese-American friend then proceeded to telling me about this guy, Jean-Francois. "He pretends that he's French, but he's not! He claims that the French eat turkey." As I said, more than 100 percent of my friends believe the French don't eat turkey, and as majority rules, Jean-Francois must be wrong. Therefore he can't be French. Jean-Francois should be guillotined for making such allegations, along with the 46 million turkeys.
So why do you eat turkey? My little survey showed that most of you don't really like turkey that much. I suspect that some of you might have become vegan to be excused. My friend M, who required anonymity given the gravity of the topic, said, "I think turkey is like the Satanic Verses of meat. As with that iconic book, which everyone bought but no one actually read, turkey is a must on Thanksgiving, but not something anyone ever eats other than on that day." I would venture to say that turkey is a satanic meat. No redeeming virtue to be found in this obese animal engineered to pollute our ovens at the end of November. Yet it's the tradition.
Historians know that turkey was not the centerpiece of the first Thanksgiving feasts. Duck and goose were the pièce de resistance, together with venison. And yet today 88 percent of Americans surveyed by the National Turkey Federation eat turkey on Thanksgiving.
The beast is everywhere, in miles and miles of supermarkets meat counters, on TV, in ads, at a movie theater near you. Every cooking show, every food magazine is talking about it, trying to make it sound like a gourmet affair. Recipe writers offer advice such as "Ask your butcher to reserve this, chop that, add those..." which is wishful thinking, infuriating advice, because the 88 percent of Americans who eat turkey for Thanksgiving don't have a butcher. The recipes make it sound like you have a butcher as you have a family doctor. Butchers are not covered under Obamacare, and we don't buy our turkeys from "our butcher." Turkey is an object sold under plastic wrap in supermarkets and turned into food by overcooking.
Yet, I feel I have to come clean. I confess. I'm not exactly proud. But we, French people, recipients of good taste, wardens of brilliance, vestals of food mastery, rulers of bon goût, we do eat turkey. And we can't even blame it on Thanksgiving! We don't celebrate Thanksgiving, because we are mostly not a thankful people.
We eat turkey for Christmas. La dinde de Noël is as traditionally French as a Gitanes cigarette, and probably as lethal. Turkey is disgusting. In French, even its metaphorical meaning is derogatory. "Ah, quelle dinde" is a very offensive way to describe a woman, conjuring thoughts of stupidity, clumsiness and a fat ass.
How do we prepare a French turkey, you're begging to ask! No bread stuffing. No cranberry accoutrement. We stuff our dinde with chair à saucisse (chair is not a piece of furniture you sit on, chair -- pronounce shehr -- means meat in French), chestnuts, foie gras. We also waste an inordinate amount of black truffles and Armagnac brandy on it. We try to improve it. And we fail.
Mon dieu! Why is turkey on French Christmas menus? One cynical explanation would be that we are eating the Thanksgiving leftovers from our American cousins. But it's not even the case. There's actually an embargo on American turkeys. We are just closeted turkey eaters. It is a tradition that no one confesses to following, except very un-French Jean-Francois.