Stop pretending you like turkey. It's no good on Thanksgiving, or any other day.

Rachel Askinasi
·8 min read
Thanksgiving turkey dinner
Thanksgiving hosts often use turkey as the centerpiece. LauriPatterson/Getty Images
  • You should go turkeyless for Thanksgiving, even if it's been an annual staple on your family's table forever.

  • I know it seems shocking, but hear me out.

  • This year, your holiday gathering will likely be smaller due to COVID-19 restrictions, so if less than half of your table wants turkey, it's not worth the massive task of cooking it at all.

  • Take this opportunity to try out a different recipe or make your family's favorite red meat roast instead.

  • Now more than ever, when we may not be able to celebrate with loved ones, the holiday is about comfort and enjoying the foods you like best — you're not beholden to the bird. 

  • Visit Insider's homepage for more stories.

Let's all stop pretending — we don't actually like eating turkey.

I'm very used to being the only one in the conversation who will admit to not liking the standard Thanksgiving centerpiece. But going into the holiday this year, I'm seeing and hearing more people willing to speak up about our shared, somewhat controversial opinion. And it's about time! 

Americans are downsizing Thanksgiving feasts this year due to COVID-19. As a result, chefs and food writers (myself included) are recommending that people either cook smaller pieces of turkey, purchase a smaller bird than their typical 20-plus-pounder, or forego the poultry altogether. 

I believe the latter should be the new norm.

Eating turkey on Thanksgiving has always felt kind of obligatory

My take on this so-called Thanksgiving "staple"? We make it because we think we have to. But the truth is, who actually cares?

Turkey on its own is usually flavorless, which is where the reliance on cranberry sauce, gravy, stuffing, and myriad other dressings comes into play. And unless the cook really knows what they're doing, you can bet that the turkey is going to be improperly cooked — most commonly too dry, but sometimes (and most disastrously) still partially frozen.

Plus, it's almost always more meat than anyone can realistically consume before the leftovers spoil — let alone at the Thanksgiving table the day of. 

I have an image burned into my brain of my family's massive turkey carcass last year, still half-filled with usable bits, being dumped into the garbage pail. It was like a bad dream where you watch something horrifying happen in front of you, but you're moving too slowly to stop it. Why did we even make the massive bird if we weren't going to finish it and use the carcass to make stock? (Which, by the way, is exactly how you respect a bird.)

As people are looking for ways to downsize their dinners this year with tiny turkeys or breasts instead of whole birds, I'm firmly sticking to my position: We should eliminate turkey from the Thanksgiving table altogether.

Downsized Thanksgiving 48
I made a piece of turkey breast, but it was kind of pointless. Rachel Askinasi/Insider

Why are we even so attached to turkey on Thanksgiving?

When we were younger, we were told that Thanksgiving started when the pilgrims and the indigenous peoples of North America came together to eat turkey. Unsurprisingly, that wasn't the full story

Ashley Rose Young, a historian at the National Museum of American History, told CNBC that the turkey-centricity of the holiday actually came closer to 240 years after that first Thanksgiving, from a push to get Americans on a national scale more into eating food that's native to the land. She said the addition of turkey as a main dish was meant to distinguish the American holiday table from the British holiday table (though obviously Brits don't celebrate Thanksgiving).

Turkey consumption is really more of a lesson in westward migration and storytelling than anything else, according to Rose Young. "Turkey became the national dish that we eat on Thanksgiving through a decades and century-long process of the regional foods of New England consumed during traditional harvest festivals, making their way through the United States," she told CNBC.

According to USA Today, this quote attributed to Alexander Hamilton pushed the obligatory turkey narrative along even further: "No citizen of the US shall refrain from turkey on Thanksgiving Day." 

Well, sorry to disappoint you, Mr. Hamilton, but I refrain. 

Even food industry insiders agree that turkey is not actually good

Sheinelle Jones, an anchor on the "Today" show, said during the third-hour segment on Monday that she doesn't love turkey and admittedly just puts it on the table to please her dinner guests.

And she's not alone.

"I hate turkey," food writer and cookbook author Priya Krishna echoed on an episode of David Chang's new podcast "Recipe Club." "I have never loved it. [...] Every time I'm eating turkey, I'm like, 'I wish I could be eating anything else."

Chang agrees. He closed the episode with a defiant statement of his own, denouncing the bird: "Don't cook a turkey; order fried chicken."

Even food writer Alison Roman, who has published turkey recipes of her own, admitted that she prefers the theatrics of serving a turkey to the act of actually eating one. In an Instagram Q&A session posted to her Stories on Monday, Roman answered a follower's question about which piece of turkey they should make for a three-person gathering and made clear that in her mind, it's either a whole turkey or no turkey at all.

Alison Roman turkey
Alison Roman told followers that unless you're making a whole bird, turkey isn't worth it. Alison Roman/Instagram

"The best part about making a turkey is the sort of majestic theatricalness of it," she said. "And turkey is not even that good, so when you roast [just] the parts you're like, 'Why did I do that?'"

Roman also pointed out that turkey pieces aren't even easy to find in stores, an issue I encountered myself. When I was shopping for my two-person Thanksgiving feast experiment, I had to go to three grocery stores before I found one that had non-deli meat turkey breast for sale. (Though I wouldn't be opposed to replacing centerpiece turkey with the deli slices, for the record.)

"Honestly, just literally make anything else," Roman advised her fans. She recommended cooking a rib eye or lasagna instead, which both sound like pretty phenomenal options to me.

"I just really like a big bird," the author said to another follower. "I like to see the big bird and the turkey shape, like a cartoon."

Sheinelle Jones, Alison Roman, and representatives for "Recipe Club" did not immediately respond to Insider's request for comment.

Many people seem to be sticking with turkey this year because they feel like they just need to have it

"You have to have turkey on Thanksgiving," Tonya Nash, an Atlanta native, told NPR. So, even though she wasn't traveling home to have cuts carved from a 20-pound beast of a bird, she found a small turkey breast to fill the void.  

Butterball, arguably the most famous turkey brand in the country, also confirms that people are still buying turkeys this year, though it's not super clear whether the majority of customers are downsizing their birds or not.

Roni McDaniel, an expert at Butterball, told NPR that people are actually looking to order smaller turkeys across the board. But conversely, Nicole Johnson, director of Butterball's turkey talk line, told "Today" hosts on Tuesday that most of their customers are still looking for large birds — and that Butterball is actually recommending buying large so that home cooks can have leftovers.

A representative for the brand confirmed to Insider via email that their own study revealed three-quarters of Thanksgiving hosts this year plan to serve the same size turkey or even larger than last year.

Sure, I love leftovers. But buying a 10-pound turkey for even four people seems extraordinarily excessive to me. Plus, how many weeks in a row can you eat (and actually enjoy) turkey leftovers?

Rachel and Joe Shenk, who raise commercial turkeys just for Thanksgiving on their family farm in North Carolina, told NPR they're helping customers get creative when it comes to the main dish. 

Rachel Shenk said many are asking them for smaller birds, which they didn't prepare for this year: "I have to go back and be like, 'Well, would you be OK with a half turkey?'"

Turkey
You can have a perfectly festive Thanksgiving meal without turkey. Getty Images

So, here's my fix for anyone who's looking to have as little turkey on their table as possible: just don't have any.

Seriously — skip it! It's not even good. And with a belly full of your favorite roast or an elaborate, comforting pasta dish, I promise you won't even miss it.

Read the original article on Insider