The Unbearable Whiteness of White Meat
Dark meat is better. Why don't we love it more?
Despite its superior taste, dark meat has dark undertones for some. Dark meat evokes the color of earth, soil. Dark meat seems to summon up ancient fears of contamination and miscegenation as opposed to the supposed superior purity of white meat. I guess it shouldn't be a surprise that white meat remains the choice of a holiday that celebrates Puritans.
Indeed, the connotations of the pale and darker parts of the turkey constitute a meaty metaphor for the Thanksgiving feast itself. The allegedly more refined and daintier white parts, the wings and breast, have never touched the ground the way the earthier darker legs have done. And you know how dirty dirt is.
By the way, if you want to read a brilliant poetic embodiment of the real story of our "Pilgrim fathers," a chilling antidote to white bread, white meat, and Thanksgiving treacle, I recommend you take a look at Robert Lowell's amazing, chilling poem "Children of Light" (which could have been called ("Children of White").
Its opening lines represent the best unsentimental epitaph for the myth of Thanksgiving:
Our fathers wrung their bread from stocks and stones
And fenced their gardens with the Redmen's bones.
Maybe that's why I have a prejudice against the white-meat sacrament of the holiday that covers up the white man's crimes.
It's Lowell writing about his pilgrim ancestors who began the rolling genocidal slaughter of those nice Native Americans who made the first Thanksgiving possible.
The real Thanksgiving story is extremely dark, far darker than any leg and thigh meat.
Could fear of facing our dark history be behind the prejudice against dark meat? Or is there more to the darkness of dark meat that feeds that fear?
This is what occurred to me when I put the question to my cohort of Facebook "friends" the Monday before Thanksgiving. There was one comment in particular that made me wonder whether something deeper wasn't going on: "I hate dark meat it's slimy and viscous."
I had always thought it was a matter of the tastelessness of white meat, but here was an instance of some profound and fundamental revulsion against the threatening sensuality of dark meat. (Which others might call juiciness—what must he think of gravy?)
The language in which it was expressed reminded me of something I had not paid attention to since my undergraduate days: Jean Paul Sartre's mad rants against "ooze" and "viscosity" in Being and Nothingness.
I Googled around and found a commentary on one key passage in Sartre's meditation on "le visqueux"—both slime and the slimy:
For Sartre, the slimy resists the standard categorizations of solidity and liquidity, maintaining itself in a disgusting physical condition somewhere between the two: "Slime is the agony of water. It presents itself as a phenomenon in the process of becoming; it does not have the permanence within change that water has but on the contrary represents an accomplished break in a change of state. This fixed instability in the slimy discourages possession."
However nonsensical most of Sartre is, that's a great line isn't it? "Slime is the agony of water."
Maybe that's it: Dark meat represents slime and viscosity. Dark meat embodies all the menace of dissolution into the nothingness that is the slimy ground of being itself!
Come to think of it, maybe I'll try the white meat this time.
Ron Rosenbaum is the author of The Shakespeare Wars and Explaining Hitler. His latest book is How the End Begins: The Road to a Nuclear World War III.
Man carving turkey by Creatas Images/Thinkstock Images.