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For some, Thanksgiving tradition is for the birds

It's probably no comfort to the 46 million turkeys that will end up on tables today, but they are all safe from me.

It’s probably no comfort to the 46 million turkeys that will end up on Thanksgiving tables today, but all are safe from me.

Editors Note: The Following Series “Food, Tradition, and Reflections this Thanksgiving” is a week-long series curated by Alexandra Greengrass as part of the Digital Research Internship Program in partnership with ViaNolaVie. The Digital Research Internship Program is a Newcomb Institute technology initiative for undergraduate students combining technology skillsets, feminist leadership, and the digital humanities.

There’s no better time to reflect on the holiday season as we quickly approach Thanksgiving and Christmas. Thanksgiving is a time for family, food, and tradition; and while the stereotypical image of turkey dinners and the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade might pop into mind for some, for others that image could not be further from reality. This curation will first focus on the unique Thanksgiving traditions of New Orleanians, before looking at some holiday season considerations. There’s nowhere more interesting to focus on the role of “food” in Thanksgiving, living in both the country’s gastronomical hub and largest food desert.

The following article, originally published November 28, 2013 is written by Renée Peck on the role of food in Thanksgiving tradition, as well as feeling “off” about not having concrete Thanksgiving tradition in a city that reveres tradition like no other. In the words of Renée: “Happy Thanksgiving, however you celebrate it.”

I know it’s un-American, but no one in my family likes turkey.

We’ve tried it basted, roasted, slow-baked, high-heat baked, deep fried, stuffed with oysters, stuffed with cornbread, even stuffed with a chicken and a duck — that would be the local turducken. (I have not, yet, sunk to tofurkey, although my youngest continues to flirt with vegetarianism.)

No takers.

So every year at this time, I haul out the cookbooks, poll the relatives and try to come up with a main-dish substitute that’s not, well, a turkey.

Over the years, I’ve cooked crown roasts and pork roasts and standing rib roasts, duckling and goose, casseroles and Cornish hens. I’m not alone in this, btw. A good friend is boiling lobsters today for her family table.

So far, no alternative entrée has stuck, family tradition-wise, in the way the gobbler has taken most American tables hostage. This year I’m opting for a tenderloin of beef from Costco, because, really, who would rather have a wing when you can corner a filet?

Of course, food is not the holiday’s only hallowed tradition. The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade has been rolling through Manhattan since 1924, and the first Thanksgiving Day pro football game started just 10 years later (that first faceoff in 1934 was between the Detroit Lions and the Chicago Bears). The presidential turkey pardon has been a national fixture since 1989, and Black Friday, that woeful stampede to start holiday shopping, keeps gaining ground – and early starting time – every year.

And why, if I may digress, is it Black Friday? Surely Green Friday (for the big bucks spent) or Red Friday (for the holiday deluge) would be more apt?

It turns out that the term Black Friday was coined in the 1950s by factory owners, because so many workers called in sick the day after Thanksgiving. The term was borrowed in the 1960s by the Philadelphia Police Department to convey the day’s traffic jams and shoplifters. Twenty years later, merchants sought to put a more positive spin on the term, by crediting the day with a bottom line of black ink. (Thank you,, for the explanation; where would be without Internet snooping?)

Black Friday, like Turkey Thursday, is not a Peck family tradition. You won’t find any of us poised in a shopping mall parking lot in the pre-dawn hours come Friday.

Still, it seems off, somehow, to be so traditionless in a city that reveres its … traditions. So much of what we do in New Orleans has to have rites to be right, whether it involves the holiday lighting of the balconies at the Royal Sonesta and the Wonderland Lobby at the Roosevelt, singing carols in Jackson Square, ushering in the Carnival season on a streetcar, or sticking plastic babies into circular cakes.

Now that I think of it, the only inviolate holiday tradition in my household has to do with a family recipe for a very retro asparagus casserole. But that’s a story for another day.

Happy Thanksgiving, however you celebrate it.


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