Answers to Every Possible Thanksgiving Health Question, 2013

By James Hamblin
Balloon terrifies children, Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, 1938 (via Designrelated, Flavorwire)

Why are pecans, for my pies, 30 percent more expensive this year?

They got a disease called scab, they got eaten by feral pigs, and China started to love them.

Is turkey sleep different from normal sleep?

Yes, turkey sleep is a stress response.

Tryptophan is what makes us sleepy though?

No, turkey contains the amino acid tryptophan, but not more than chicken or beef.

I understand that if I try to deep fry a frozen turkey, it can explode my house. We just had our cabinets done, and the last thing we need is an explosion. Just how frozen is too frozen?

Don't put a turkey in a deep fryer if it's even slightly frozen. Thaw it all the way, which supposedly takes one day for every five pounds (sounds like a lot). Why are you frying it inside?

How bad is it that I stuff our turkey a few days in advance?

Bad! Disgusting actually, don't do that.

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I read it's healthier to stuff the turkey with bacon. It's a healthier alternative.

Alternative to what? Are you thinking of turkey bacon? That's this whole other thing.

Is quinoa stuffing healthier than regular stuffing?

Yes, but if white-bread stuffing is what's on the table, that's fine.

Is it true that most people gain five pounds over the holidays?

No

Do we really eat 4,500 calories on Thanksgiving?

The New York Times measured it closer to 2,500. But that didn't include any alcohol at all—or reheating later, or breakfast before. So essentially yes, a lot of us do.

If I'm in my in-laws' kitchen, and I don't know how to help, or it's just generally awkward, what should I do?

Stir something.

Several of my pies have gone missing. I suspect the neighbor boy.

It was the neighbor boy. Teach him not to mess with you.

I've heard that eating turkey without the skin is better for me. Is that true?

Yes, it is. The skin is mostly saturated fat.

How can I avoid talking to my family and just focus on what I really want: the f-o-o-d!

Please try to be more sincere. Some day you will spend the holidays alone against your will, and even with all the food you could want, you will feel sad.

Really I only enjoy the turkey skins. Is that okay?

I mean I wouldn't make an entire meal of it.

It's my first vegetarian Thanksgiving. Should I make Tofurky?

Last year my answer to this was, "Tofurky is offensive, linguistically and culturally. If you want to eat turkey, eat turkey. Tofu doesn't look or taste or smell like turkey at all. If you make tofu, own it and treat it like tofu and call it tofu." In response, the makers of Tofurky sent me some Tofurky to try. I no longer consider it offensive as a food, only as a word.

Should I do a juicegiving? (All the Thanksgiving foods in juice form)

No, as much as that is a word I like and can't get out of my head, juice cleanses are never a good idea, and at Thanksgiving it would be particularly isolating. Especially if you're spending the holiday with people you don't know well, surreptitiously blending everything under the table and sucking it through a giant straw.

It seems like we leave gravy sitting out most of the day and still eat it. Is that bad?

Yes. Put it in the refrigerator, and if it sits out you're supposed to bring it to a rolling boil before you serve it again.

What if I forget about the giblets?

Yeah, so, backing up for a minute, giblets are the visceral organs of the turkey. If you buy a turkey from the butcher, they might come in a bag inside of it, which you have to reach in and take out before you cook it. We use giblets to make dog food, but fancy and rural people eat them, too, in various ways. If you forget to take out the bag of giblets, and it melts "or changes shape in any way," the FDA says you shouldn't eat the turkey.

Cranberries are good for your heart and help prevent cancer. I read.

Maybe, but then we boil them in sugar, so I wouldn't look at cranberry sauce as healthy. Paula Deen puts mayonnaise in hers, though, so most of our cranberry sauces are austere in a relative way.

Also should I make them with orange juice instead of table sugar?

If you want them to taste like orange juice. I know that sounds glib, but that really is what I'd say. It would get you a little less fructose, yes. But how much cranberry sauce are you eating? One day a year? It's like the quinoa stuffing. The difference ends up being pretty much academic, and there are a million more important things for us to worry about.

My relatives make various Thanksgiving dishes weeks in advance and then, over dinner, chat about how long they've been in the freezer. It sort of ruins my appetite. Is there any actual evidence that long-frozen dishes have a lower nutritional value than freshly cooked ones? 

Maybe some evidence somewhere, but in general, freezing foods doesn't do much to diminish their value to us. Freezing is normal and healthy, and fresh is a marketing buzzword that implies health, probably unfairly.

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Captain Nemo, Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, 1929 (AP)

I was told to cook my turkey with the wings "akimbo." I just nodded, but I'm not sure what that means.

Tuck the tips of the wings under the shoulders, which spreads out the meat, so it's supposed to cook more evenly.

How much gravy is "too much"?

Unless you have heart failure, don't overthink it on the holiday. But then the fact that you're asking makes me wonder if you've had issues with gravy in the past?

What is Thanksgiving going to be like on Instagram?

This is actually Instagram's fourth Thanksgiving. Last year we were post-food-photos. The cycle has completed a revolution, though, and food Instagrams are cool again. Do it, Instagram everything. Start saying "pics or it didn't happen" again, and use the hashtags #blessed and #thisisthegoodlife and #gravy. I promise, it's cool.

What I plan to do, essentially, is make a bowl out of just turkey skin, and fill it with gravy. Then take it up to my old childhood bedroom and eat it alone. Then probably repeat that a couple times.

Ah don't do that. But we'd probably be good friends.

The Pilgrims landed on Plymouth Rock?

No.

Abraham Lincoln made Thanksgiving an official holiday?

Yes!

I live in New York City and want to volunteer on Thanksgiving.

Here are some last-minute options.

Is pumpkin the new bacon?

Yes, but we'll be mostly rid of pumpkin by March, and bacon is eternal. These are getting less like health questions. Well, I suppose that is a health question insofar as all of the pumpkin everywhere might be stressing us out. Like if you feel you can't escape it. Seasonal pumpkin-related anxiety.

What is in canned pumpkin?

Usually some other kind of squash that is different from what we consider pumpkin!

I am a pescetarian.

That's okay.

Is the Macy's parade going to be canceled?

The balloons can't take off if the wind is more than 34 miles per hour, and right now forecasts say 36.

I don't normally smoke, but hey, it's Thanksgiving, right?

Why are you putting me in this position?

I did the gravy bowl thing, and I have no regrets.

Well

Does the USDA have a "meat and poultry hotline"?

Yes! 1-888-MPHotline

Why would I not just Google my question?

I don't know!

There is a Butterball hotline, too.

Yes

Yes, I know I was telling you. The people who run it are sharp. They told me where to find the neighbor boy who stole the pies. They also put the situation into perspective. Maybe he stole the pies because his family isn't able to feed him enough. I felt bad for jumping to indict him. But then when I did find him, he was in his Range Rover with three other children, eating my pies. I think they are doing some sort of bling ring, but with pies.

That's really terrible.

Do you need love to enjoy the holidays?

No, but if you have the opportunity and are on the fence about loving someone, do it. My mother says we are "post-love" as a society, but I don't think that's true.

 


This post is based on a version we originally published on November 28, 2012.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2013/11/answers-to-every-possible-thanksgiving-health-question-2013/265441/