Tingles seen furiously nodding in approval.
Let me say at the outset, I don’t mean to be a buzz-kill. I’m happy for you if you like white-meat turkey. I don’t think less of you. In fact I think rather more of you for being able to be satisfied with so little in the way of flavor. Perhaps in a past life you were a self-flagellating friar. (I’m reading Wolf Hall and can’t help the allusion. Best novel I’ve read in years, by the way.)
But, seriously, I mean no disrespect, especially in this holiday celebration of fellowship and thanksgiving. And, yes, I’m familiar with the phrase “de gustibus non est disputandum“—there’s no arguing about taste. But in the case of white meat from a Thanksgiving turkey, well, I’d argue about that.
White meat turkey has no taste. Its slabs of dry, fibrous material are more like cardboard conveyances, useful only for transporting flavorsome food like stuffing and gravy from plate to mouth. It’s less a foodstuff than a turkey app, simulated meat, a hyperlink to real food. […]
And the guy was boasting that his turkeys were “bred to have 18 to 22 percent more white meat.” After which the CBS announcer made a stupid wisecrack about breasts that alone would make you want to forgo the silicone-textured mega-butterballs.
And these are ciabatta-bread people, not Wonder Bread people! Do they still associate white meat with refinement? It was enough to make me wonder whether there could be a racial, if not racist, subtext here. Perhaps there is a clue in the shifting fate of the “other white meat”—pork. I’ll never forget the moment when I learned the antebellum racial origin of the phrase “living high on the hog.” I had driven down the I-5 “grapevine,” that fog-shrouded mountainous interior route from San Francisco to L.A. with a couple of Communist Party women who were mothers of death row prisoners (long story). When dawn broke and we arrived in Watts, they guided me to a place called Ray’s Redwood City, an all-night, almost all-black joint where the ladies of Saturday night dined with the ministers of Sunday morning (not at the same tables), and my fellow travelers ordered me a dish called “high on the hog,” a mountain of scrambled eggs topped by a fried pork chop.
It was then I learned the etymology of the phrase in America. It hails from the plantation days, when the white slave owners dined on choice pork chops cut from “high on the hog” while the slaves made do with the lower parts of the pig—the ham hocks, the pigs feet, the pork bellies, and the innards. White meat was high on the hog, but not higher on flavor than other (often darker) cuts. Indeed the “other white meat” now available most frequently in lean and tasteless pork chops and cutlets has little more taste than white meat turkey.