The graceful turkey. Source:

My part in the Thanksgiving gathering for the last couple of years has been to cook the turkey. Last year’s bird was a fine plump 22-lb. fellow. I prefer cooking a bird that large by the spatchcock method. It takes about half the time.

This year, as we all know, brought gatherings of large groups to a halt–or at least it was supposed to. I decided to go against the pleas of many, and headed south for turkey day with my son, Madison, in the Mountains of Western North Carolina. It would be just the two of us, so by practicing the recommended safety requirements, we both felt reasonably safe.

Even though there would be just the two of us, we decided to prepare a full Thanksgiving meal. The health food store in the small mountain town of Highlands, NC, was selling free-range, organic, antibiotic-, hormone-, and pesticide-free turkeys. A nine-pounder was in the refrigerator when I arrived. It looked incredibly small compared to last year’s 22-pounder, but more than enough for the two of us.

On Thanksgiving morning when I unwrapped the little turkey, I had a totally different reaction from my usual “smile” at seeing a fine broad- breasted bird that had been born and bred for the table. I actually felt sorry for this scrawny malnourished bird. I immediately pictured a poor skinny turkey scratching around for a few seeds or bugs (free range). In my mind’s eye, I saw a New Yorker cartoon with this poor bird being watched by a couple of hungry vultures just waiting for him to die of starvation.

I know a lot of people will defend raising free-range, organic, hormone-, antibiotic- and pesticide-free birds as offering many benefits for the environment and our health. I’m sorry, but I’m going to have to take the turkey’s side on this. He’s going to get his head cut off for us, why make him suffer by scratching around to stay alive for his short life. Sure, we humans are better off without antibiotics, pesticides, and hormones in what we eat, but feed the poor critters something. Had I seen this bird at a farm, I would have been forced to say, “Feed that poor bird more of something healthy and I will be back in a few weeks”.

This fellow, after being starved and giving his life (I bet with not even a proper “last meal”) was before me to cook. As I said, l am a fan of cooking fowl by the spatchcock method. In doing so with this bird, I found that method did not work well. To add insult to injury, I overcooked the little guy. I have cooked chickens by spatchcock method for years, but I guess I should have seen this coming. There was NO fat on this bird. I mean not even enough to begin to make a decent gravy from the drippings. There were no drippings.

I did manage to make a good cornbread-sausage dressing and gravy using stock I had cooked from the giblets and canned stock I found in the pantry. Along with rice, a Waldorf salad and dry turkey, the meal turned out fine. At least the smells of Thanksgiving in the house brought back good memories. Spending time with my man child more than made up for the tough dry turkey.

The following day, we enjoyed a good turkey vegetable soup made by coaxing what flavor I could from the carcass for stock. It took a lot of doctoring and the addition of some herbs to get a little flavor out of that poor bird.

Hopefully, next year we will have returned to safe family get-togethers. But regardless, a turkey bred for the table will be in my oven. I would much rather enjoy a wonderful meal–guilt and all–than push back from the table patting myself on the back for having eaten healthy.

A healthy Thanksgiving? Come on! A pat on a full stomach is much more satisfying.

Better times are coming if we all respect the rules and each other.

 Bill Minus is a storyteller who in resides in Chestertown, Maryland. A native of Greer, S.C., he lived and worked throughout the southeastern United States before arriving in Kent County.