Turkey is a vegetable, right?
September 24, 2008 2:23 PM   Subscribe

Last Thanksgiving, the sight of the raw turkey brining in the fridge tipped my wife from being somewhat "icked out" out by some meat (specifically, uncooked and bone-in cooked) over to being a (lacto, semi-ovo) vegetarian. She is uncomfortable with having turkey in the house at all this year -- but to me a Thanksgiving without a turkey seems hardly a Thanksgiving at all. What to do?

We usually share Thanksgiving cooking duties, my wife doing more dishes than I. I'm no master cook -- a decade ago I couldn't cook spaghetti -- but I try to push myself with the occasional very modest foray into the culinary arts, be it grilling kebabs, experimenting with spice mixtures for burgers, or trying a new pan sauce for a filet; pretty much anything in Cooks Illustrated is hard to screw up too badly (and oddly, nearly anything grilled -- assuming it's still on the vaguely recognizable side of the charred spectrum -- tends to turn out tasty). So when she was rather stressed and busy last year, I took turkey duties as an adventure.

I've joked since then that my cooking turned her into a vegetarian, but in fact I do understand where she's coming from and her choice is entirely reasonable, and hers to make. I've been been supportive in the intervening months, happily eating the meatless dishes she prepares for dinners, which have been rather good in general (though I have a bit of Soy Overload, so ironically she ends up wanting more meat "substitutes" than I). I get my carnivore fix at restaurants on the weekend. My own cooking contributions have been reduced somewhat, as my specialties were mostly rather meat-based.

But Thanksgiving is different; she doesn't want a turkey anywhere in the house lest she have flashbacks, yet I have no interest in the Tofurkey route. Even the turkey roulade we did a couple years ago as an experiment seemed unfestive (albeit an interesting diversion), and that was at least real turkey. Our kids (1 and 4) are too young to have a strong opinion either way; it'd be nice to provide some traditions for them to enjoy, but realistically there's nothing inherent about turkey that will ruin their childhood if it's missing.

So for the vegetarians in the house and their omnivorous significant others, how is this usually handled in mixed households? Am I being close-minded?
posted by SeanCier to Food & Drink (28 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
You want it. She doesn't. Either neither of you are being close-minded, or both of you are.

How about one of you goes elsewhere for Christmas? Or you by a ready cooked turkey or something, since only the sight of the uncooked bird should set her off.
posted by Solomon at 2:29 PM on September 24, 2008

But Thanksgiving is different; she doesn't want a turkey anywhere in the house lest she have flashbacks, yet I have no interest in the Tofurkey route.

She needs to see a therapist and you need to cook a delicious (small) turkey for yourself. Maybe you could invest in a mini-fridge to be used for meat in a way sort of analogous to the way plates are separated in kosher households. Her fear of turkey - that extends beyond eating it - is unreasonable. I realize she's your spouse and there's a whole other level of compromise that needs to go on there, but it seems to me that completing ceding the house to her objections when you're otherwise comfortable eating meat is overboard.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 2:33 PM on September 24, 2008

She doesn't want a turkey in the house, or she doesn't want a raw turkey? Maybe you can get a pre-cooked turkey at your local supermarket (ordering ahead of course), or you could pick up the turkey and immediately deep fry the sucker and only bring it into the house fully cooked.

Supporting her vegetarianism is a good thing, but she should be supporting your dietary choices as well.

You could buy a small fridge that you can keep in the garage for meat.
posted by BrotherCaine at 2:33 PM on September 24, 2008 [1 favorite]

Seconding the ordering a bird from a store, wife and I do this (she's a veg, i'm not).
posted by iamabot at 2:36 PM on September 24, 2008

What are her feelings on ham? It doesn't have nearly the same dead carcass appeal that a turkey does, yet still has that holiday feeling.
posted by Craig at 2:37 PM on September 24, 2008

Whole Foods will cook the entire meal for you. Everything.
posted by Zambrano at 2:40 PM on September 24, 2008 [1 favorite]

I went meatless for many years but always brought in some kind of turkey for my carnivorous SO: it did not seem fair to deny him a deeply held tradition. Since I wasn't keen on having a 15# pale pink and pimply carcass defrosting in the fridge for 3 days, we tried several different options over the years.

a) eating out at a restaurant
b) ordering a prepared (fully cooked) turkey. We got ours at a Honeybaked store one year and at a local high-end supermarket another year.
c) we cooked a turkey bullet. I don't know what these are really called, but they are deboned turkeys with both white and dark meats wrapped up in a bullet-shapped netting similar in shape to a ham. Found in your local supermarket or deli.
posted by jamaro at 2:41 PM on September 24, 2008

I'm a veg and the Mr is completely meat and potatoes. Its his house too, so as much as I don't care for it, it is his right to keep meat around, and once or twice a year I do try to make some for him.

Although, it did take me quite a while to get to this point.
posted by cestmoi15 at 2:42 PM on September 24, 2008

I don't think its unreasonable to not want to see meat that is very obviously still shaped like the animal it came from. I've been vegetarian for nearly 10 years (read: I've mellowed the hell out) and I still find it a little gruesome. In middle school we had to play around with chicken wings to learn how muscle groups work together, and ever since then, I got nauseous anytime I was around people eating wings. And that was before I went veg.

I don't really understand what's unfestive about turkey breasts. Are you really hung up on the Norman Rockwell-esque scene of carving a turkey in front of the whole family? You could always create a new tradition just for your family.

Might I also suggest adopting a turkey?
posted by giraffe at 2:43 PM on September 24, 2008 [1 favorite]

I live in a somewhat mixed household, but the vegetarians are a lot more reasonable.

"She is uncomfortable with having turkey in the house at all this year..."

What's more important to you, the tradition of one day out of the year, or the happiness of your spouse? I'd imagine it's the latter, so you're in for a birdless holiday.

"she doesn't want a turkey anywhere in the house lest she have flashbacks"

I think she's being unreasonable about this -- one person's sense of squick and food preferences shouldn't get to dictate what foods are even permitted in the house -- but you've already established that her preferences guide the menu, and it's unkind to reverse that and apparently cause her emotional harm just because you feel like roasting some poultry.

She's asked you not to cook a bird. I strongly disagree with her reasoning and assumption that it's even appropriate to disallow you to cook something, but it's not an onerous or difficult request to comply with. All you have to do for the happiness of your wife is: don't cook a bird. See how easy that was?
posted by majick at 2:45 PM on September 24, 2008

If you feel there's nothing inherently festive about turkey and your kids won't miss it, why not create your own meatless Thanksgiving tradition? Tofurkey (which I agree is vile) is hardly the only option.

My non-vegetarian mother makes a vegetarian meal for my father and I every Thanksgiving that is out of this world and has become a decade-long Thanksgiving tradition for my family--it's blackened tofu fillets with a cashew butter bordelaise sauce. It goes perfectly with all the traditional Thanksgiving side dishes (candied sweet potatoes, string bean casserole, vegetarian stuffing, cranberry sauce, etc.) and gets rave reviews from carnivorous extended family members every year.

If you're willing to give it a go, I'd be happy to share the recipe. Heck, anyone who's interested can have it.
posted by jesourie at 2:48 PM on September 24, 2008

I'm extremely squeamish about the grosser parts of meat, too - I don't like handling raw meat, and I avoid any meat that's still on the bone. Give me a steak and I will end up trimming at least half of it off. I love meat, but only as long as it's a boneless skinless lean filet that no longer sports any obvious references to having been part of an animal.

I have not yet prepared my own Thanksgiving turkey, but I'm not particularly looking forward to the task. Sure, I'll cook it, but I'll probably end up pinching a leg-bone delicately between my fingers, squeezing my eyes shut, and flinging it into the oven. And I only ever eat a few slices of breast anyway.

Can you go to a restaurant for Thanksgiving? Many restaurants have wonderful Thanksgiving feasts, and they will probably serve a nice tidy platter of white meat slices instead of a huge bird carcass. Palatable if she's willing to try it, easy to ignore if not. Plus you don't have to deal with the leftovers.

If you're not willing to go out for the holiday, I agree with getting a pre-cooked bird. Possibly even just the breast?

However, since she's been vegetarian for nearly a year and you haven't had meat in the house for a while, it might take some time to gradually get her into the idea. Are you able to eat meat - whether it's carcassy meat or something innocuous like a burger - around her when you're in a restaurant? Starting smaller and gradually increasing her exposure might help.
posted by Metroid Baby at 3:00 PM on September 24, 2008

This is a great veggie T-day recipe, and its really fun to make and looks spectacular. If you add the recommended gravy recipe, I swear it tastes EXACTLY like turkey gravy and is totally vegan. Its uncanny. The whole meal is very Thankgiving-y and you may not miss the turkey at all.

This is good recipe for a burgeoning cook as well. Not really hard, but just complicated enough to test your mettle (and patience). Takes a while though, so give yourself a reasonable chunk of time and involve everyone in the process.
posted by elendil71 at 3:02 PM on September 24, 2008

I've been a vegetarian my whole life, so I never had a turkey for Thanksgiving.

Last year, we hosted a bunch of people, some omnivores, some vegetarians, and we hewed to what have become traditional dishes in my family: quiche, veggie nut-loaf (better than it sounds, and even better as left-overs), and heaps and heaps of mashed potatoes.

The two prongs of Thanksgiving tradition, to me, come from celebrating the fall harvest and from having the time off in order to cook stuff that takes a while. I understand that a turkey represents that for the folks who grew up with it, but it doesn't have to be the only way to celebrate those traditions (here I sound like a Godless liberal, I know).

So, look, if you want some kick-ass recipes that have been developed over roughly 30 years in my family, send me a memail. They're not turkey, and they don't pretend to be, but they're pretty damn good and can be something you move toward with your wife.
posted by klangklangston at 3:10 PM on September 24, 2008 [1 favorite]

You can brine in the garage. If you are in a cold enough region in November the brining bucket can be in the garage otherwise, dedicate an ice chest to the brining process with ice calculated into the weight of the brining formula. Brining in the garage lets you honor her request for not being confronted by raw, dead, immersed in water, bird to just seeing it become golden brown and tasty in the oven.

My husband kind of thinks it odd to see a 35 lb. bird in the refrig so I brine out of sight and then prep and roast in the kitchen on the big day.

The alternative requires you get an even better skill set and learn to smoke a turkey. Now you say it can't be done but the miracle of the Weber Smoky Mountain and the support group of fellow smokeheads will make you change your mind. This gives you a good excuse to get a smoker and do several test runs and dinners. Because you need to learn the skill, man! Also, you can smoke a ham/pork butt AND a decent sized turkey at once.
posted by jadepearl at 3:31 PM on September 24, 2008

My wife has been a vegetarian for almost twenty years, and I respect and understand her choice. That's not a one-way street, though: she also respects my choice. You live there and should be able to do whatever you want - it's your home! Forbidding you from having a turkey, even for a special occasion, is not fair.
posted by letitrain at 3:42 PM on September 24, 2008

I love Turkey more than you can imagine. Especially turkey legs. Oh, bring on the dark meat! Ah, but here's the thing: Thanksgiving isn't about turkey. It's about Giving Thanks. So, have a marvelous feast. Give thanks for the many things you might normally take for granted. And pass on the turkey. All things considered, it isn't really that important, is it? Surely it's not more important than your wife.
posted by 2oh1 at 3:45 PM on September 24, 2008

Just to point out that having someone else cook your turkey means not having your own gravy, stuffing, or any of the other bits that make Thanksgiving so awesome. I've never had stuffing from a store that came anywhere near as good as my family's. I don't know what I'd do in this situation, but giving up turkey on Thanksgiving when you started out on the same meat-eating page would be a brutal brutal blow to me.

Food isn't just fuel- it's a whole lot of what symbolizes who you are and where you come from. One of the problems with giving up meat, ESPECIALLY if it's not by your own choice, is that you're giving up pieces of culture, heritage, family traditions, ties to your childhood memories, ties to the way your great grandma cooked for her children...

For some reason that's an aspect of vegetarianism that isn't often addressed.
posted by small_ruminant at 3:46 PM on September 24, 2008 [3 favorites]

P.S. Maybe you can use this as an excuse to try something completely new this year. An even bigger, better and more amazing feast with all sorts of delicious treats you've never imagined.

No turkey? Fine! Scrap the whole traditional meal and do something outrageous and delicious - and share it with as many people as you can.
posted by 2oh1 at 3:48 PM on September 24, 2008

I have a vegetarian friend who still loves turkey, so I take her a plate of turkey, stuffing & gravy. Maybe you have a friend who will do the same for you. I agree that a new tradition is called for. Artichokes, corn pudding, savory bread pudding, pumpkin pie, apple pie, sweet potato souffle, cider-glazed carrots, great bread, good wine, and good friends make a great holiday meal.
posted by theora55 at 4:44 PM on September 24, 2008

I've been a vegetarian for most of my life, and I think she's being unreasonable. Being a vegetarian should be about making rules for yourself, not trying to impose rules on other people.

I've seen Thanksgiving handled in 2 main ways:

Option 1: No one changes their normal routine; anyone is free to eat the turkey or not. Vegetarians have plenty of sides to choose from. If you do it this way, make sure there's vegetarian stuffing. Also, be aware that vegetarians won't want to have normal gravy for mashed potatoes.

Option 2: I've done Thanksgiving with a small group of just me and two meat-eaters, and the meat-eaters are happy to have the excuse not to bother making the turkey. It's not that terrible to deviate from "tradition" a little.

From one of the answers marked best answer: you're giving up pieces of culture, heritage, family traditions, ties to your childhood memories, ties to the way your great grandma cooked for her children...

Frankly, this reverse-moralism about eating meat is ridiculous. Be a vegetarian or not based on whether you want to eat the food. But don't claim that you're eating meat to preserve how "your great grandmother" did things. Every generation comes up with new stuff, and you never preserve all the old stuff.

As the OP said, "it'd be nice to provide some traditions for them to enjoy, but realistically there's nothing inherent about turkey that will ruin their childhood if it's missing." It is nice to have traditions -- whatever you decide to do will be "the tradition" for your kids.
posted by Jaltcoh at 6:10 PM on September 24, 2008

Mmmm, roast turkey with cranberry sauce, stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy... a cherished memory of childhood Thanksgiving dinners with the whole family around the table. You owe it to your kids to provide them with that Standard American Childhood Experience.

If your wife is OK with you brining the turkey in the garage and roasting it in the oven, then fine, do it.

If she's squeamish about having a turkey in the kitchen, maybe you two could sit down and calmly discuss. ("Is it the sight of an uncooked bird that squicks you out? How would you feel about leaving the kitchen while I bring it in and put it in the oven?")

If she's dead set against a turkey in the oven at all, then she is being unreasonable. It isn't her oven, is it? Her kitchen? You share both, right? Then who is she to prohibit you from doing anything you want in your shared kitchen?

As long as you aren't forcing her to eat what you cook, how can she dictate what you cook and eat yourself?
posted by exphysicist345 at 7:11 PM on September 24, 2008

Frankly, this reverse-moralism about eating meat is ridiculous.

No moralism intended.

On a day by day level, I eat meat because I like it and I don't feel healthy when I don't eat it.

For Thanksgiving I cook a traditional Thanksgiving meal because the cultural and familial connotations that comes with those recipes are intensely important to me.

These are two different conversations.

If the the wife were insisting everyone eat buffalo wings with ranch dressing for Thanksgiving instead of a turkey we'd be hearing a lot more about this aspect and I think it's worth bringing up in the vegetarian context, too.
posted by small_ruminant at 7:28 PM on September 24, 2008

In order for her vegetarian conversion to become something real that others are expected to accommodate, it needs to develop beyond an ick reflex. Seriously, there are a million good reasons. Being icked out is not one that should rise to the point of impacting others.
posted by scarabic at 9:11 PM on September 24, 2008

Being icked out is not one that should rise to the point of impacting others.

Having been around kitchens cooking chitterlings (chitluns), I respectfully, extremely disagree with that point.
posted by BrotherCaine at 7:52 AM on September 25, 2008

Would having turkey parts brining in a covered container in the fridge bother her? I'm about the only one left in my family who really loves turkey, but the others will eat a bit of it along with stuffing, etc. But even a small turkey is too much (I don't want to deal with leftovers.) What I've done the past two years is purchased a few turkey wings and drumsticks and prepared those along with the stuffing. (I prefer dark meat, but you can also get just a breast if that's what you like.) You still get the flavor and aroma of Thanksgiving, but with less muss and fuss.
posted by Oriole Adams at 9:30 AM on September 25, 2008

I've been married a long time and can say that sometimes you just have to deal with things you find icky in the name of compromise. It's just how it works.

Get yourself an opaque container to brine the bird. Give yourself a bonus and freeze the leftovers in single portions so you can have leftover turkey on nights you feel especially carnivorous. What would she do if tofu skeeved you?
posted by Breav at 4:18 PM on September 26, 2008

Oh, please do take klangklangston up on his offer of the veggie nut-loaf recipe. It's freaking amazing. (And I'm an omnivore!)
posted by fuzzbean at 4:14 PM on September 28, 2008

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