Turkey: Beloved Seasonal Classic, or Far Inferior to Ham?

Photo via AP Images.
Photo via AP Images.

Kelly: Honestly, turkey is bad and we should eat ham.

Turkey has been associated with Thanksgiving ever since Abraham Lincoln officially declared it a national holiday. Every year, the president marks the holiday by “pardoning” one of the birds. Children nationwide make hand turkeys. The dish and the day are practically synonymous at this point.


But we should abandon turkey, this trash bird, for ham—a delicious mammal.

Why do we even turkey in the first place? Is there any other time of the year you think to yourself, “Damn, what I’d love right now is a big slab of turkey”? No! Our new colleagues at the Takeout provide the backstory.

Thanksgiving as we know it originated in New England. Its earliest incarnations involved a special church service and lots of speeches; it usually took place on Thursday, possibly because that was market day when everyone would be in town anyway. Gradually, New England Thanksgiving expanded to fill the entire weekend, through Saturday night, with dances, hunting parties and lots and lots of food. Originally turkey was the bird of choice because, on the scale of luxury, it ranked above the goose—but below the unforgivably decadent swan and peacock. Later, everyone ate it because that was what people had “always” eaten, even though wild turkeys were virtually extinct by the time of the Revolution.

We eat turkey, in other words, out of cultural inertia. We eat turkey because we think the Pilgrims sat down with the Native Americans and split one during the first Thanksgiving. But we know very well that rosy image of brotherhood and brightly colored festive gourds straight out of a Home Goods is a false one. Why cling to the turkey, too?

And honestly, have you looked at a turkey lately? Not the perfectly respectable wild version, but the farm-grown varieties, like the poor creatures pardoned at the White House yesterday. Honestly, no offense to Drumstick, but yuck:

Consider instead the ham. The beautiful, glistening, baked ham. How often do you get to eat a large ham? Not often enough, I would wager. Why are we wasting one of our great (pardon the pun) pig-out days on turkey, when we could earmark that day for ham? An enormous ham with a perfect, golden candy crust. Leftover ham sandwiches smeared with chutney. Oyster dressing and gravy will go just as well with ham. In fact, it would go better, because the sweet would pair so perfectly with the savory. There is an actual phrase, “living high on the hog,” that associates ham with the good life. And there’s no folderol about white meat versus dark meat and whether there’s enough of each for whoever wants it—there’s just ham.

Last year, for Christmas—my first away from home—my sister had a HoneyBaked Ham delivered to my doorstep. A whole-ass HoneyBaked Ham. It was the best gift I have ever received. All I want for you is to know the simple joy that I felt, two weeks postpartum, standing in front of an open refrigerator door, pulling thick, cold slices straight off that foil-covered ham.


Down with turkey. Up with ham.

Aimée: My colleague has offered some compelling points. But she is completely, totally wrong.


When I consider cannibalism (we’ve all considered it, don’t pretend), I imagine that human flesh would have about the same consistency, smell and flavor of a honeybaked ham. Too sweet, moist, and chewy, with a strange pink color even though it’s theoretically cooked. IS ham cooked?! It doesn’t look or taste like it is. Kelly says it “glistens,” which makes ham sound like an infected wound, or sweaty skin slathered in sunscreen. I feel the same revulsion towards sliced ham as I would towards a dismembered baby’s foot.

But let’s reflect on the noble turkey. Kelly asks if anyone ever thinks, “Damn, what I’d love right now is a big slab of turkey.” Hello, nice to meet you. I regularly go to the hot meals counter at Whole Foods and demand a half-pound of turkey in a container. I don’t even have them slice it: I tear it apart with my hands for my next few lunches. As a teenager, I ate stewed turkey over rice from the salad bar at the deli after school while other kids were sucking down sour candy, and yes, I was considered a freak.


Turkey has a far better texture than chicken, it’s a lean meat, and when you eat the leg, you feel like a damn king. People don’t go to the Renaissance Faire and order a cup of mead with a side of cubed ham, for god’s sake!

(Sidebar: my roommate once ate the turkey leg from my Thanksgiving leftovers, from a turkey I had cooked, and I will never think about the moment I went to the fridge and discovered it was gone without experiencing white-hot rage.)


I would eat turkey even if there weren’t a national holiday centered around animal sacrifice. But if we are assigning meats to festivities, ham is an appropriate flesh for Easter, and Easter only, because that holiday provides copious amounts of chocolate as a counterbalance.

This is certainly a distressing conversation for the vegetarians out there, and I will likely get bashed by them for saying this, but I do make some choices about the meats I eat based on basic animal intelligence. And though we will call it anything else once it is dead, ham is a pig. And pigs are easily as a smart as a large dog. I don’t eat pigs or cephalopods or any other animal I think could beat me at chess (including humans). The turkey may be an ugly weirdo, but I genuinely think its too stupid to know literally anything.


That said, one of my resolutions for the new year is to significantly reduce or eliminate animal products from my diet, including meat. But the Thanksgiving turkey for 2017 is already dead, and I will feast upon it until my grandmother looks concerned. Gobble gobble.



Beloved seasonal classic. Not to get all food snobby, but in my experience, the vast majority of people who dislike Thanksgiving turkey are the ones who don’t know how to cook it properly. Yes it takes a long time to make, this is why we only do it once a year. Not because it’s inferior to other foodstuffs. Brine it, season it, cook it low. Also, turkey gravy is wonderful.