Maggie Van Ostrand
the Pilgrims landed on Plymouth Rock, Thanksgiving has always been
a day of gratitude for our many blessings, a day of family, friends,
and mashed potatoes. But today it seems the government is interfering
in our lives yet again.
The feds have decided to add yet another fear to the long list of
things they tell us to be scared of, holiday food. We'd be more inclined
to believe the fear list if they put themselves at the top of it.
Unless you're planning to eat your Thanksgiving meal in Baghdad, Kabul,
or Guantanamo, it seems a waste of our hard-earned fear to follow
the government's instructions about holiday food preparation. Do they
have to get into everything? Well, yes, apparently they do.
These instructions should be filed along with the government's pamphlet
on How to Save Money, of which they claim to know 66 ways, and which
they'll sell you for fifty cents. The smart money's on people who
start by keeping the fifty cents.
the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service and the FDA's Office of
Women's Health package on Holiday Food Safety, when preparing stuffing
and gravy, we're given another fascinating life lesson: wash our hands.
What? As if we would not normally wash them? Like we can finally get
revenge on our relatives by mixing the stuffing with snarky hands?
Let's throw in filthy fingernails while we're at it. Maybe we should
just boil our hands before touching anything. I wonder why the fed
stopped there. They could've told us not to sneeze on the gravy.
The fed further attempts to frighten us by saying "If food is mishandled,
you may have an uninvited guest at your meal." I already know that.
Uncle Sam always shows up wanting his piece of the pie.
With almost constant warnings of anthrax, smallpox, and unnamed odorless
gases ready to be released by terrorists, a little bacteria should
be quite welcome. Besides, we already have grandpa's gases, which
can hardly be called odorless. It's a family tradition to seat our
least favorite relative next to grandpa at the Thanksgiving table.
If he keeps it up, next year, he may find himself seated at the little
table, the one reserved for kids who might not question what that
noise was Grandpa made that caused their eyes to water.
The feds also discuss, in their what-not-to-do-at-Thanksgiving pamphlet,
how to avoid cross-contamination. What, plain contamination isn't
enough to scare us? Does contamination have its own lobbyist in Washington?
They say we can avoid cross contamination by "separating raw meat,
poultry, and seafood from other foods in the refrigerator, on the
counter, or on the cutting board." How does the government think we
refrigerate our foods? By mashing them all together? Fine, then how
about coming over and having a beeken (combo beef and chicken) smothered
in carp or a tuna burger with a side of chicken livers swimming in
sweetbreads? No thanks guys, I'll stick with turkey.
As to our Thanksgiving turkey, the feds remind us to stick a thermometer
in it, and, though our government doesn't specify, they probably mean
after it's dead. They offer "helpful hints on how to safely thaw and
roast our turkeys, along with suggested cooking timetables." These
must be politically correct birds because, in the old days before
the government took sensitivity training in order to not offend any
of their potential pamphleteers, the turkeys thawed in the fridge
as the label advises, and were roasted according to family recipes
or even Julia Child's recipe.
Good old Julia, who once dropped a chicken on the kitchen floor and
baked it anyway. That's the spirit of America. Improvise.
It's fine if you want to take the fed's advice but, if you're uncertain
about preparing your Thankgiving feast, you can also get help from
Butterball, http://www.butterball.com, which has menus, recipes, planning,
preparation, and serving tips. They even feature homemade videos from
Palos Heights IL, Los Angeles CA, Brooklyn NY, Madison WI and other
cool places, so you can see real families and hear their Thanksgiving
The one thing to remember is common sense. Don't nuke the bird, or
blow it up on your barbecue, or think you can soak it in hot water
till it's cooked. Just follow the directions on the turkey's label,
unless you can finagle an invitation to someone else's house.
Don't forget two things: the part of Thanksgiving where we give thanks,
and that the only one who should fear Thanksgiving is the turkey.
Copyright Maggie Van Ostrand
"A Balloon In Cactus"
19 , 2006 column