Thanksgiving 2010

THE MEAL

Everyone loves Thanksgiving.  It is our national family social get together and our yearly communal sit down.  Probably the only American meal where we actually sit down and eat the same basic set of items.  Roast turkey and gravy.  Cranberries.  Stuffing.  Mashed potatoes.  Squash or pumpkin.  Checking my facsimile edition of The Original Boston School Cooking Book published in 1896, the menu items are pretty much the same.  The notable exception is oyster soup.  Does anyone serve that anymore?  Certainly not me.  I have made many Thanksgiving dinners for family and friends over the years because the tradition deserves to be honored.  But turkey is not my favorite.  A little too bland.  And sometimes a little too dry.   Do I love the day any less?  Absolutely not!  It just means I put aside my taste for a really gamey bird and cook to please the less adventurous who come to my table to indulge.

Looking at a whole meal has always fascinated me.  Eating is holistic.  People eat meals as opposed to individual items and since Americans eat pretty much the same set of items, Thanksgiving is a perfect meal to look at.  Using recipes from my software data base, prices from various local markets, and some off the shelf preparations, here is the menu board for a traditional Thanksgiving meal.

Onion Soup, ¾ cup (180ml)

Roast Turkey with Skin, 6 ounces (170g)

Turkey Gravy, ¼ cup (60ml)

Bread Stuffing, ½ cup (100g)

Cranberry Sauce, 2 Tablespoons (35g)

Mashed Potato, ½ cup (105g)

Green Beans with Almonds, ½ cup (120g)

Sparkling Apple Cider, 8 fl oz (230ml)

Pumpkin Pie, 1 piece (155g)

THE METRICS

total cost  $7.40   ●   total calories 1240 per serving

Let’s talk dollars first.   Any foodie worth his salt can drive the cost up by sourcing specialty items.  Free range grain fed turkeys.  Even better heirloom wild turkeys (my personal choice).  Maybe a bottle of vintage wine…  But Thanksgiving is not complex and perhaps it is more in keeping with tradition to keep the meal simple.  Besides, many people prefer the taste of turkey, not the more gamey flavor of a heirloom bird.  My first surprise was how reasonably priced a traditional Thanksgiving could be.

My second surprise was how much time the analysis took.  What I thought would be a straightforward exercise ended up getting complex.  Some items have incomplete data and due diligence is required every step of the way to determine a reasonably accurate calorie count.  That may be one of the reasons why so few meals seem to get analyzed.

Besides the time commitment, however, there may be another reason meals, especially great meals, do not get analyzed.  Companionship, cooking, setting, sharing, savoring – the magic of a great meal is what my fellow foodies love and cherish.  The risk of analysis is that it can break the magic of the moment.  And that is a valid observation.

But let’s just try a bit of analysis by putting the calories into the context of who may be sitting at table.  Aunt Sally is over 50, never exercises, sometimes indulges in sweets but otherwise eats like a bird – miniscule portions, no skin, no dark meat, no gravy, and a whole piece of pumpkin pie.  Makes sense because her daily requirement is about 1600 calories.  She will also get full benefit of the only deep orange vegetable on the table.  Then there is cousin Jeremy.   On the move, physically active, into sports, early twenties, always hungry.  He eats double portions of everything in sight.  Makes sense because his daily requirement is about 3000 calories.  And then there is everyone else in between, but that is enough for now.  A little bit of analysis goes a long way and I need to get cooking …

Happy Thanksgiving.  Enjoy the meal!