A Vegetarian Roasts a Turkey for the First Time

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Yesterday was Thanksgiving, and for the first time in my life I roasted a whole turkey on my own. I’m a vegetarian (one struggling with getting enough iron and protein, which complicates my food choices), so this wasn’t what I’d call pleasant. I strive to make meat-free meal choices, but when I’m in a situation where it’s unavoidable, my personal view is that wasting the food is disrespectful to the life of the animal. The turkey was a donation from my mother, originally gifted to her by her workplace because, unlike monetary bonuses, food isn’t taxable. As its fate was sealed, and as a dear friend says – sometimes you just have to feed yourself – I made my peace with the bird and what I was about to do to it.

It was a frozen bird, going about a slow thaw in my mother’s refrigerator until she delivered it to my refrigerator on Wednesday night. Thursday morning, once I was conscious enough not to make any irreparable mistakes, I retrieved him from the fridge on his plate, in his plastic wrapper and netting, and built a foil nest for him in the roaster. It’s my hope that he’s gone on, maybe waiting for the spring, to be sealed into a fresh egg laid in a shadowy wood and hatched into a new life far away from the Jennie-O farm that brought him to my counter. After a moment or two of thought, I put both hands on his cold breast and thanked him for his life, and for feeding my family. I may have also promised not to fuck this up. I don’t remember, I’m pretty sure he handled it with more grace than I did.

All of the proper removals and retrievals were done after extricating him from his packaging. Believe me, believe me, every explanation that this was my first turkey provoked “Remember to take out the neck and giblets!” from almost total strangers, with the kind of desperate hope reserved for advice about job interviews and wedding nights. The process was cold, but not ‘gross,’ as my childhood encounters with raw chicken all seemed to be. Maybe I’ve matured (I doubt it) or maybe my respect for the animal I was preparing mitigated that. Maybe after a certain age and a certain amount of loss we get numb to the sensation of dead flesh. I moved him successfully to the roaster, anointed him with stock, sage and thyme, tented him in aluminum foil, and put him in the oven.

My cats’ noses were in the air in an hour, prompting them to search me every time I sat down because apparently my title in the pride is The @#*%& Food Hoarder.  Or maybe they think I’m a food piñata, to be browbeaten until I produce something magical. Multiple times over I was forced to prove that the pot of potatoes, bowl of oatmeal, my cross stitch project and multiple glasses of iced tea were Not, In Fact, Turkey. They made their disappointment in me obvious for this apparent failure.

The turkey, however, was not a failure. He finished perfectly. My mother seemed proud of me for this, although to be honest turkey preparation seems more trust and patience than skill. He fed my family and helped create a new memory to layer in over this new home. The leftovers will feed the welcome stragglers who arrive piecemeal over the weekend. Wherever he is, I wish him a rich reward, with whatever joys the soul of a turkey might desire. May he have broad wings to soar, nights without fear, and freedom.

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