Tradition Is Turkey’s Last Hope

Turkey: Eat BeefPeople sometimes ask me why I cook with chicken so much. I think it is a stupid question. You might as well ask why someone eats bread or rice. Chicken is the easiest meat to cook with because it has relatively little flavor. Other meats need to prepared in such a way that compliments their distinct flavor. I think of other meats as I do broccoli. Have you ever noticed how broccoli isn’t generally used in soups? It’s flavor is too distinct. You really have to cook especially for it, whereas potatoes or cauliflower go in pretty much everything. Ditto for chicken. And as someone who likes making sauces, chicken is just easy.

Chicken is also cheap. Pretty much all beef, pork, and sea foods are more expensive than boneless chicken breast. Ground beef is slightly cheaper. So why not cook with chicken? In general, I don’t see the need to try different meats. After all, I am always doing something different with it. It isn’t like it is fried chicken every night. (It is actually pretty much never fried chicken. And it is only chicken about twice a week anyway.)

I am not alone in this respect. According to data collected by Matt Yglesias, Americans eat almost seven times as much chicken as they do turkey. He notes:

Every Thanksgiving a tedious debate erupts on the Internet between joy-killing trolls who argue that turkey is a bad food to eat, and sentimental liars who claim to think turkey is delicious. But you can actually just look this up. Not only is turkey not delicious, nobody thinks that it’s delicious. The numbers don’t lie.

He is certainly overstating this for effect. For one thing, I know that Andrea claims to really like turkey. And it is certainly true that part of the reason we don’t cook more turkey is that it’s a pain. They are big and who needs that much food except on Thanksgiving and Christmas? And turkey is more expensive. But it is also true that if turkey were distinctly better than chicken, people would go to the trouble of preparing it.

When I think about the dishes I usually make with chicken, they are things like cashew nut chicken and chicken pot pie. I rarely make a whole chicken, although chicken stuffed with saffron rice is really great. Only one dish I make is even associated with turkey: chicken tetrazzini. I don’t think this has to do with the fact that turkey parts aren’t commonly sold. I think it works the other way around. There is nothing special about turkey. So given the choice of buying smaller chicken parts for less money and larger turkey parts for more money, people go with the former.

So when it comes to America’s kitchens, the turkey stays around for one reason only: tradition. And if that works for people, great. As for me, I don’t need to hassle with a big bird that mostly tastes like the chickens that I cook with on normal days. On special days, it should be something like beef with a red wine demi-glace. But since I’m not cooking today, I only get the beef. But at least it isn’t turkey.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

0 thoughts on “Tradition Is Turkey’s Last Hope

  1. Funny, turkey is super cheap here (usually available for $.50 a pound near Thanksgiving), and not too bad. But it’s local, which makes a difference.

    Agreed about the mess. Yuk!

  2. @JMF – Well, I saw that Paul Krugman is pushing back against this argument. But let me be clear: I don’t have anything against turkey. I just don’t think it is proper for special occasions. It is also more appropriate for a time when people had extended families. In general, it is about 50% more in cost than turkeys, which still makes it a cheap meat. But I don’t think it is long for our modern world. I will give it one thing: turkey sandwiches the next day are great.

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