Cruel food: Hitting below the belch, or stuffing it!

By Maralyn Lois Polak

Never before had I heard of a Turducken, until last night, and before you accuse me of cursing at you, or sneezing in your face, listen up!

Turduckens are both a symbol of a decadent culture needing radical revolution to recapture the righteous basics of existence, as well as an intricately contrived regional food specialty: a turkey stuffed with a duck stuffed with a chicken, each deboned, slathered internally with layers of gastronomically enticing dressing, trussed, then roasted – originally, they say, by Americans of a Southern persuasion.

Birds stuffed with birds stuffed with birds. Like Chinese boxes, or Russian dolls.

In short, Turduckens are the hat trick of metaphors, simultaneously encompassing Bad Taste, American Ingenuity, and Capitalist Glut.

That Turduckens emerge as a blip on public consciousness during the same season the USA presses onward toward war against Iraq is no small coincidence. If you like your food cruel and its preparations elaborate, Turduckens are for you. Meanwhile, only such a peculiar culinary diversion could even begin to capture the attention of a jaded nation also poised in anticipation of the first human cloning later this winter … promising an endless supply of expendable cannon-fodder?

“Trojan food,” cracks my dear physiatrist friend “Doc Payne.”

Are Turduckens Martha Stewart’s Revenge on America for not loving her enough? Not quite. Turduckens seem more like something fancifully devised and then deconstructed by structural anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss in his seminal study of myth and culture, “The Raw and the Cooked.”

I’m trying to imagine what a cadre of contemporary journo-savants tackling the politics of food – Maureen Dowd and William Safire, linguistic activist Noam Chomsky – would make of Turduckens.

“Oh, wretched excess,” expostulates “Althea,” the poet-editor-lapsed archaeologist.

Would Jesus eat a Turducken? Probably not.

Even the staid, austere New York Times takes recent notice of Turduckens, when Amanda Hesser plunders the annals of culinary history to speculate on the Turducken’s origins:

The 1832 diaries of John B. Grimball refer to a Charleston preserve of fowl: a dove stuffed into a quail, a quail into a guinea hen, a hen into a duck, a duck into a capon, a capon into a goose, and the goose into a peacock or a turkey. The whole thing was then roasted … It makes Turducken seem like the lazy way out.

“In the Republic of Georgia,” Darra Goldstein, wrote in “The Georgian Feast,” “there’s a very old feast dish calling for a huge ox roasted on a spit, stuffed successively with a calf, a lamb, a turkey, a goose, a duck, and finally a young chicken, seasoned throughout with spices. The art lay in ensuring each type of meat was perfectly roasted.

Though my gourmand friend “Penny’s” artist husband “Bryce” had never heard of Turduckens, either, his theories of painting organic forms from nature derive in part from the resonant notion of Nested Hierarchies, related to Fractals, in physics.

“What if,” he wonders, “you created the vegetarian equivalent of a Turducken?” Say, a pumpkin stuffed with a cabbage stuffed with a rutabaga stuffed with an onion stuffed with a Brussels sprout stuffed with a garlic clove?

Hmmm. Now I am curious how Thorstein Veblen’s “Theory of the Leisure Class” (1899) – a book considered the first and foremost modern attack on wealth, while originating the term “conspicuous consumption” – would approach the Turducken Phenomena.

Meanwhile, Americans annually consume some 270 million turkeys, most raised by horrifically abusive factory farming. “Turkeys have been transformed,” Wayne Pacelle of the Humane Society told the Associated Press, “from a sleek, adaptive wild animal into a Frankenstein monster, so obese it can barely stand.”

While wild turkeys, unlike the rough whiskey of that name, are gentle creatures, feeding on insects, seeds, berries and tender plants, the factory-farmed version, however, may be fattened on steroids, hormones, antibiotics, cellulose fiber, miscellaneous chemicals – perhaps even powdered cement-laced feed. When you think about it, by now, the USA’s mass raising and slaughter of turkeys for our delectation must rival or exceed that of any other disempowered slave minority in sheer numbers. Vegetarianism, anyone?

For next year’s holiday celebration, why not give thanks by considering People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals’ recommendation of a turkey-less Thanksgiving menu: scrumptious, cruelty-free soy roasts like Tofurky or Unturkey garnished with delectable veggie pies crammed with cranberries, seitan (wheat gluten), onions, yams and chard.

As for Turduckens, they kind of remind me of that “Riddle wrapped in an Enigma encased in a Paradox” – and swallowed by a Jerk.