This is the time when all Americans talk turkey. I have no problem with that. What I have a problem with is eating turkey.
With due apologies to the 44 million birds who have given up the gobble for today's feast, I believe that the turkey's only reason for being is as a repository for stuffing.
The turkey is the ugliest creature ever eaten by a human being, with the sole exception of the monkfish. It is inconceivable that millions of Americans would long to bite the neck of this fowl thing if they confronted a live one.
Mind you, I do not hate the turkey once it comes out of the oven. You can only hate something that has character. It is possible, for example, to hate liver or squid or snails (although it would be a mistake). Turkey, however, is the Muzak of foods, the farina of fowl. It is worthy of supreme uninterest.
My family, long aware and tolerant of my disdain for the Thanksgiving centerpiece, attributes this flaw to years misspent in an effete eastern college. There, the common and dismissive phrase about a fellow human being was, "What a turkey!" An anthropomorphized turkey was combination of jerk and loser with a little airhead thrown in. To this day, you can identify the alumni of this and similar campuses by the way they upbraid themselves on various playing fields, exclaiming, "You turkey!"
But I didn't take a dislike to turkey because of the people. Quite the contrary. The reality is that I am not alone in heaping scorn on this bird. If everyone loved turkey, we never would have invented gravy. If everyone loved turkey, there wouldn't be so many leftovers.
Indeed, leftovers are the strongest argument for my case. In the days following Thanksgiving, the average American turkey continues to grow, rather like zucchini. The culinary history of America is colored by imaginative attempts to disguise and therefore disperse leftover turkey to the unsuspecting. My own family has made turkey into everything short of a lamp. I have been told on good authority that the 75-pound turkey that broke the Guinness Book of Records in 1973 is still being shared by a very large and unhappy English family.
I realize that by disparaging the turkey I am attacking an American tradition. The turkey is a native. When it was exported to Europe, no less a gourmet than France's Brillat-Savarin proclaimed in the 18th century that the "face of the turkey . . . is clearly that of a foreigner. No wise man could be mistaken about it." Our own Benjamin Franklin once made a bid for the turkey to be the national bird on the theory that the bald eagle had a "bad moral character." He had never eaten an eagle.
I know, I know: at Thanksgiving we are not only eating food but devouring tradition. There is an atavistic desire on the part of a family to break the same bread together or, more accurately, to share the same kill. The turkey is easier to find than the haunch of zebra and less expensive than a side of beef.
But to be perfectly frank about it, the tradition claim is a bit weak. The domestic turkey is only a distant cousin to the wild turkey -- a distant Mexican cousin. The majority of table turkeys have been so inbred that they can no longer breed on their own. It is an artificially inseminated tradition, which isn't quite the all-American way.
More important, those of us who live in rough proximity to the first Thanksgiving site must report that there is no evidence that the Pilgrims and the Indians actually ate turkey during their three- day feast. Must we cravenly follow an event of our own creation like a collection of you-know-whats?
From what we do know, the Pilgrims and their Indian guests had the following items on the first Thanksgiving menu: venison, duck, goose, seafood, white bread, cornbread, leeks, watercress and eels.
Hmm -- the Thanksgiving eel? Now there's an idea I could sink my teeth into.