Need a replacement bird for Thanksgiving? Roast duck with baked vegetables is an alternative to turkey. (grinchh/Adobe Stock)
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ATLANTA – If you’re concerned about the recent news of rising turkey prices, don’t panic. No need to start picking turkeys.
“We’re not seeing a shortage of supply,” said Ben Del Coro, vice president of sales and marketing for Fossil Farms, a New Jersey purveyor of sustainable and all-natural meats and farm-raised game.
Unlike last holiday season, when supply chain and labor issues led to ingredient shortages, there should be enough frozen turkeys to go around for Thanksgiving. However, the outbreak of bird flu and the impact of inflation on fuel, feed and labor costs have made turkeys more expensive.
All frozen turkey prices rose from $1.15 per pound this time in 2021 to $1.47 per pound for the week of Oct. 28-Nov. 3, according to the US Department of Agriculture. While that’s about a 28% increase per pound, Del Coro said, “the overall costs are in line with what everyone experiences throughout the year” with food prices and inflation. Indeed, costs have increased for all turkey parts, including bone-in fresh and frozen breasts, drumsticks and ground meat.
If these prices seem unreasonably low, they’re not the last prices you’ll see in the butcher’s box. As Del Coro explained, the USDA’s weekly price report shows wholesale prices for commodity poultry — not free-range, organic or any other so-called premium descriptor. Distributors and retailers add additional prices before the turkey reaches your basket.
For those planning to cook a traditional turkey for Thanksgiving, it may be time to try something different this year. “Buying trends have changed,” Del Coro said. “For the past two years, people have been eating at home and hosting smaller gatherings,” while restaurants and hotels have been pulling back from serving large Thanksgiving feasts.
With more options coming back to eat at Thanksgiving, he said, there is “increased demand for the same supply.” “Now wholesale is coming back, but retail demand is still there.” Although home cooks can find frozen turkeys on the market, the size and price may not be ideal.
If you’re feeling adventurous or considering forgoing turkey this year, here are some alternatives for your Thanksgiving menu.
Cut a different bird or meat
“Personally, I understand that Thanksgiving is about tradition, but it’s good to have fun with tradition,” Del Coro said. His Thanksgiving meal often included foods more commonly eaten in pre-industrial North America.
Game meats, for example, used to be a common staple of the American diet, he said. “Venison was definitely part of the original Thanksgiving meal and is seasonally appropriate,” with cuts similar to roast beef or steaks that can be made with seasonal accompaniments.
If you want to stick with the poultry theme, Del Coro recommends guinea fowl, pheasants and ducks as replacement birds, which are “more accessible and less expensive than turkey.” For crispy, juicy skin, try whole roasted duck with balsamic glaze, guinea fowl with rosemary brine, or roasted pheasant with cornbread.
Personally, I understand that Thanksgiving is all about tradition, but it’s good to have fun with tradition.
– Del Coro
Or for a more turkey-adjacent experience, Del Coro offers the pussin, a young chicken that weighs about 1 to 1½ pounds and is popular in England. Each poussin can be filled individually, he said, and “everyone can get their own little mini-roast turkey on their plate.”
Decolonize your menu
Since the turkey is only one element of the many colonial myths and stereotypes surrounding the Thanksgiving holiday, this may be an opportunity to update the menu to honor Native Americans.
Instead of continuing the narrative of “Pilgrims and Indians” and celebrating the continuing cultural contributions of these tribes, the Thanksgiving decolonization movement has focused on acknowledging historical racism and violence against Native Americans. Creating a decolonized menu can focus more on foods traditionally prepared and served by Native Americans.
Some of the common ingredients we think of as “traditional” Thanksgiving food—including squash, corn, wild rice, and root vegetables like sweet potatoes and turnips—are also traditional local ingredients, so a decolonized menu can bring you food. these dishes are in the foreground.
You can also add foods that are often prepared by the tribes in the area where you live. The Pacific Northwest may have salmon and clams; You can try making homemade tamales in the Southwest.
No, focusing on plant-based meals for Thanksgiving doesn’t mean you have to serve Tofurky.
“I’ve fielded a lot of inquiries with friends and family about their favorite Thanksgiving meals,” says Jules Aron, a certified holistic nutrition coach and author of Nourish & Glow: Natural Beauty Foods and Elixirs.
In most cases, he noted, people choose a side dish as the best Thanksgiving meal — “and most side dishes are already plant-based.” This makes Thanksgiving a natural time to include more plant-based foods on the table when you tend to sample and share. It’s not the end of the world if your favorite side dish recipe isn’t vegetarian.
“People get scared when they think about plant-based recipes,” Aron said, fearing they’ll have to make too many substitutions for a dish or find unusual ingredient substitutions. However, “there’s usually a very easy tweak you can make if your side dishes aren’t already plant-based,” such as substituting vegetable stock for the chicken broth or using mushrooms instead of bacon.
Aron recommends simple plant-based meals that emphasize seasonal vegetables for two reasons: Vegetables add color to a menu often dominated by brown and beige ingredients, and “the prices are lower when you buy in season.”
One of her favorite Thanksgiving side dishes is Rosemary Maple Roasted Vegetables, which includes a mix of root vegetables like purple potatoes, sweet potatoes, beets, and carrots, or your family’s favorite options. “It’s not hard to throw them in a sheet pan and roast them,” says Aron.
She also suggests featuring whole roasted cauliflower as a plant-based centerpiece. “Go the extra mile and find a purple one” to bring another bright color to the table. Cauliflower is a blank slate to absorb flavors, so for Thanksgiving, Aron recommends pairing a creamy tahini sauce with seasonal cranberries and candied pecans.