Three somewhat related facts launched me into an examination of morality, belief, and Thanksgiving stuffing:
- As I write this, a three-pound duck browns in the oven.
- My son recently pasted a PETA sticker on his backpack, but he eats burgers.
- I consider myself a sensitive person, yet I blind myself to the suffering of my fellow creatures so I may consume them.
This tension between high moral principle and base need, and the inevitable capitulation of one to the other, drives most of human endeavor. The clash between aspired-to values and the way we live our lives gives rise to human progress: When the dissonance reaches a crescendo, we can no longer abide the long-tolerated social norm. We revolt.
But I am not a revolutionary. I put duck (or non-sustainably raised beef or chicken not from the farmer’s market) on my plate because I have limited reserves of time and energy. I choose not to use these reserves to swim against this particular tide of culture.** To make a crusade of my dinner plate would require emotional and mental resources I don’t have to spare. (Of course, this is something of a circular argument. I don’t have time for this particular crusade because I choose not to prioritize it… and I choose not to prioritize it because I don’t have time for it.)
As the timer ticks down on the duck, I am driven to consider: what would I stand up and take a beating for?
Nothing beyond “my family” comes immediately to mind.
Put another way: what cause would feel so significant that the mere thought of working toward it would energize, rather than drain, my spirit?
I nibble at the edges of the blank space, sniffing around for what I value.
I value helping new families and aspiring writers find what is true for them. I value a well-constructed sentence, a paragraph, a page, a book that makes an emotional bridge between writer and reader. I value a lovingly cooked meal—even if it contains an animal. I value time spent with family and friends, which I will do during the holiday season that kicks off this week with another species of dead bird at its center.
I believe in—what? I have trouble completing that sentence. The space remains blank. I attribute this to my tendency toward nihilism, “a viewpoint,” according to Merriam-Webster, “that traditional values and beliefs are unfounded and that existence is senseless and useless.”
The timer is chiming; I must go rescue the duck.
You may consider this a deep meditation on human existence, or, if you wish, simply a canard.
**As I re-read this statement, it sounded so lame. How hard could it be to pick up a package of organic rather than conventional chicken? This turns out to be a more complicated question than you might think. As the sole grocery shopper for a family of four, I often find myself paralyzed in the aisles. What will I cook tonight? Does it meet the myriad standards we must achieve: healthful, good for the environment, palatable, enjoyable to everyone in the family? Am I supporting the Food Industrial Complex? Not to mention my personal issues. I’m a frugal shopper, often swayed by lower price-per-pound—even if I can afford the higher price and know that the low price results from farming practices I may not agree with. Old habits die hard. I try to be a thoughtful shopper and eater, but sometimes I say “f*ck it, I just want to have dinner!”
After all that, you probably weren’t expecting anything so mundane as a recipe. Well, it being almost Thanksgiving, I thought I would share my mother’s stuffing recipe. My mother definitely preferred the concoctions of the chemistry lab to those of the kitchen, but her stuffing is a little unusual and pretty darn good. I recommend foregoing the bird and cooking it in a big pan by itself.
The Chemist’s Stuffing
1 very large or 2 medium onions, finely chopped
1 small bunch of celery, diced
4 tbsp. butter
1/2 large loaf of sandwich-type bread*, cut in 1/2-inch cubes and dried in the oven
1-2 cups orange juice
1/2 tsp. ground thyme
Salt & Pepper
*My mother may have used Pepperidge Farm Stuffing mix, since I can’t imagine her taking the time to cube and dry the bread. So I guess technically this should be called “The Chemist’s Daughter’s Stuffing.”
Melt 2 tbsp. butter and cook the onion over medium heat in a large saucepan until beginning to brown, about 5 minutes. Add the celery and cook another 5 minutes. Turn off the heat and add 1 cup of orange juice. Mix in the dried bread cubes and season with thyme, salt, and pepper. Add orange juice and/or water until desired moistness is reached (some people like it gooey, some people like it dry). Use less OJ and more water if you like it less sweet. Spread in a buttered dish, brush top with remaining 2 tbsp. of melted butter, and bake in a 400-degree oven until browned. Or, if you want to flirt with food poisoning, use it to stuff your turkey, though cooking stuffing inside the bird is no longer recommended for food safety reasons).
What would you die for? Silly or serious, I’d love to hear. Or share a favorite Thanksgiving recipe.