The following comes from my book, A Little Help from My Friends, published in 2012. I am a compulsive reader. No print is too small or multi-syllabic for me to trip through. But I met my match some years ago when I was poking through the freezer. A frozen pizza propped against the door fell onto my foot. As I picked it up, I instinctively started to read the block of writing revealing its contents. On the Richter scale of print sizes, it was a miniscule six points and written in all capitals to decrease readability. I expected a simple flour and yeast crust mixture topped off with tomatoes and cheese, so I was unprepared for the following disclosure of more than eighty-some different ingredients: (No need to read them all)
INGREDIENTS: CRUST(FLOUR(WHEAT, MALTED BARLEY), WATER, SOYBEAN OIL, YEAST, SALT, DEXTROSE, SODIUM ALUMINUM PHOSPHATE, SODIUM BICARBONATE, CALCIUM PROPIONATE(PRESERVATIVE), SOY LECITHIN), WHOLE MILK MOZZARELLA CHEESE(PASTEURIZED WHOLE MILK, CHEESE CULTURES, SALT, ENZYMES), RANCH DRESSING(SOYBEAN OIL, WATER, BUTTERMILK POWDER, SALT, DISTILLED VINEGAR, BLEND OF PARMESAN, ROMANO AND GRANULAR CHEESES(PART SKIM COW’S MILK, CHEESE CULTURES, SALT, ENZYMES, WHEY, LACTIC ACID, CITRIC ACID, CACIUM CHLORIDE), EGG YOLKS, SUGAR, PHOSPHORIC ACID, GARLIC POWDER, NATURAL FLAVORS, ONION POWDER, SPICES, SORBITOL, CORN SYRUP SOLIDS, MALTODEXTRIN, CULTURED NONFAT MILK, MALT VINEGAR POWDER [ WITH MALTODEXTRIN, FOOD STARCH MODIFIED], SODIUM BENZOATE AND POTASSIOM SORBATE(PRESERVATIVES), PARSLEY, PROPYLENE GLYCOL ALGINATE, DISODIUM INOSINATE, DISODIUM GUANYLATE, WORCESTERSHIRE SAUCE SOLIDS (MOLASSES, VINEGAR, CORN SYRUP, SALT, CARAMEL COLOR, GARLIC, SUGAR, SPICE, TAMARIND, NATURAL FLAVOR), RICE FLOUR, RENDERED CHICKEN FAT, WHEY, YEAST EXTRACT, LEMON JUICE SOLIDS, XANTHAN GUM, CITRIC ACID, LEMON OIL, OIL OF GARLIC), COOKED WHITE CHICKEN MEAT(CHICKEN BREAST WITH RIB MEAT, WATER, DEXTROSE, SALT, MODIFIED CORN STARCH, SEASONING (MALTODEXTRIN, GRILL FLAVOR (PARTIALLY HYDROGENATED SOYBEAN AND COTTONSEED OIL), MODIFIED FOOD STARCH, CORN SYRUP SOLIDS), FLAVORINGS, SOY PROTEIN ISOLATE, SODIUM PHOSPHATES, SPICES), TOMATO, BACON(CURED WITH WATER, SALT, SUGAR, SMOKE FLAVORING, SODIUM PHOSPHATE, SODIUM ERYTHORBATE, FLAVORING, SODIUM NITRITE), RED ONION, CHEDDAR CHEESE(PASTEURIZED MILK, SALT, CHEESE CULTURES, ENZYMES, ANNATTO COLOR), PARMESAN CHEESE(PASTEURIZED PART-SKIM MILK, CHEESE CULTURE, SALT, ENZYMES, POWDERED CELLULOSE (ANTI-CAKING)), CILANTRO. CONTAINS 14% COOKED CHICKEN AND 4.6% BACON.
Now, I’m not a purist when it comes to foods, though when I was in Korea I did reject the octopus tentacles served so fresh they were still moving on the plate. I don’t want to eat anything that fights back. I also have an uneasy feeling about any product with ingredients I can’t pronounce or contents that read like the fine print on a can of aerosol spray.
After my “pizza awakening,” I began a campaign to introduce purer foods to the family table. The following week, I bought a small, frozen turkey breast. My teenage son, who by now was beginning to show some withdrawal symptoms from having been separated from chemically-laced pizza for several days, examined the bird suspiciously.
“Foul,” he cried.
“That’s right,” I said, “a wholesome fowl packed with protein, low in calories and fatty cholesterol. The perfect food.”
“No, I mean ‘foul’ not ‘fowl.’” (I didn’t realize he knew the difference.) “This turkey has been injected with ‘edible fat’ and something called ‘flavor enhancers’ and a bunch of chemicals identified only by initials. This is really gross.”
He had a point.
Back to the store I went. “Why can’t I buy a simple unadulterated bird,” I said to the butcher. “No flavor,” he said. “People want flavor.” “Whatever happened to salt added to taste?” I asked. “Not good for you,” he said. “Causes hypertension, water retention, and a bunch of things you don’t want.”
Meanwhile, my son had developed a plan to free us from antibiotic-injected poultry; he would bag a wild turkey in the woods behind our farm house. As I soon discovered, this undertaking required some planning and no little expense.
In addition to roaming the woods before daylight to find where the turkeys were hanging out, there was the required turkey tag, camouflage gear, repairs to his old shotgun, ammunition, and the turkey caller. The calling device is used by hunters to produce a mating call that tricks a pea-brained turkey into coming out of the brush, thinking that a good time awaits him in the clearing.
My son perfected his turkey talk enough to entice a large gobbler to come strutting into the open where he could get a clear shot. We were spared the burden of dressing the bird, (a euphemism for gutting poultry), when my son found a professional who performed this indelicate service for hunters, getting the turkey ready for the freezer in return for a few bucks.
I should point out that a wild turkey is not as plump as the shrink-wrapped Butterball that you pull from the freezer bin at your grocery. Store-bought turkeys have bent legs; a wild turkey’s legs stick straight out like two exclamation marks. And, the breast is flat compared to the vitamin-fed birds raised commercially. Though I still enjoy a properly cooked wild turkey, I have not served one for several years. My huntsmen have taken up other pursuits, so I have returned to buying supermarket poultry.
“Do you want a bird that is fresh, frozen, organic, free-range, natural, Kosher, a hen or a tom?” my butcher inquired the last time we talked turkey.
When I looked perplexed, he handed me a pamphlet to examine the various choices. I stepped back from the counter, joining several others who were reviewing the available birds and their characteristics.
“What do you think?” I said to one woman who appeared to have finished reading the fine print.
“Buying a turkey is a hassle.” she said. “You have to order it ahead of time, come back and pick it up, and then find space for it in the refrigerator. I think I’m going to serve lasagna this year. My family’s Italian so it will fit right in with our heritage.”
“We’re Irish,” I said, “but I don’t think I can get by with corn beef and cabbage for Thanksgiving.” She agreed.
“Have you tried a turducken?” she asked.
“No, what’s that?”
“It’s all deboned meat. It starts with a turkey that is stuffed with a duck that is stuffed with a chicken. You just season the combo and pop it into the oven. A couple of hours later you take it out, slice and serve. You can order them on the Internet.”
Well, I ordered one that year. It was okay. But I missed bonding with the butcher. I missed wrestling with the icy bird on Thanksgiving morning and reaching elbow deep into the turkey hole trying to fetch raw organs.
I missed the family gathering in the kitchen to guess whether the 24-pound turkey was done and to give their many opinions on what should go into the stuffing, how the gravy should be made, and who was skilled enough to do the carving.
I missed the turkey soup that comes several days later from cooking the bones with vegetables and noodles. My friend, Edna, says it’s the fretting over the meal, the weather, and the attendees that makes Thanksgiving such a complex holiday. I guess that’s why we observe it just once a year and follow up with a nap and football game.