BACKGROUND

An old-fashioned blast against new-fashioned turkey

MCKENZIE PORTER December 17 1960
BACKGROUND

An old-fashioned blast against new-fashioned turkey

MCKENZIE PORTER December 17 1960

An old-fashioned blast against new-fashioned turkey

IF I WAKE UP on Boxing Day with my usual bout of Christmas liverishness I shall have to exercise all my reserves of self control to refrain from picking up the nearest gift hockey stick and taking off after certain men in white coats. I am speaking of those agricultural Frankensteins who during the past fifteen years have transformed our traditional Christmas fare — turkey, chicken, goose and duck — into table birds that have the appearance, texture and taste of a toasted watermelon.

What has happened to those noble tom turkeys of my youth, the long, lean big cousins of the pheasant that used to run up to forty pounds in weight and came to my family's table redolent of the wild autumn berries on which they’d fed in ditch, hedgerow and copse? Where have they gone, those crackling cockerels, capons and big fat hens that filled our Christmas season with the appetizing aroma of poultry raised on a natural diet of corn and grit? When shall we taste again those geese and duck that had enriched their flesh on the succulent life that swims in pond and stream?

Only a few crop or càttle farms, where poultry is raised largely for the consumption of the family, can offer such birds to the retailers nowadays.

Elsewhere, edible birds arc produced like plastic buttons in establishments the Europeans contemptuously call “batteries." I remember some years ago a man delivering a Christmas turkey to my home and saying with pride: “Its feet have never touched the

ground.” I felt like reporting him to the Humane Society. That poor mushroom-colored puffball, deriving its overblown breast, withered wings and stumpy legs from a mating of abnormal ancestors, had never known a broody mother or a nest.

It broke shell in a hotbox with a hundred thousand others of its kind on the split second of a pre-arranged timetable. It was confined at once to an indoor rectangular box. about the size of a child's sandpit.

As it grew, more and more of its kin were removed to other boxes, but my young turkey never had any more wing room or air because those left with it were equally developed.

Every day, down a channel, ran a porridge of skim milk and oats and though this food was alien to its palate it ate, for there was nothing else to eat. As a change of diet it got a dose of antibiotics. Thus it took on the listless adiposity that thousands of undiscriminating people mistake for plumpness.

At twelve weeks, or thereabouts, without ever seeing the sky or a green leaf, or hearing the song of other birds, my four-and-a-half-pound turkey was killed and plucked by machines.

It was just the right size for a mean little modern stove in a mean little modern kitchen. When roasted it looked as rotund and tidy and colorful as the birds you see in the advertisements that are decked around mean little recipes in mean little magazines. And the slices tasted like bits of wet blanket dipped in hot bicycle oil.

Geese and ducks are now being raised for the table on these so-called scientific lines. So are chickens, even those that are allowed to live a little longer for the sake of the eggs. The supermarkets, restaurants and many small groceries now buy these birds in such quantities that the people in the western world are already forgetting what real poultry tastes like.

This year I'm going to hunt around the small groceries for a turkey, chicken, goose or duck that bears some such label as Free Range Bird, meaning that it’s been brought up healthily on a farm, not spewed out of a factory. It will cost me twice as much as a Battery Bird but it will help me to sustain the spirit of Christmas.

— MCKENZIE PORTER