Thanksgiving day will send cooks to kitchens and eaters to table across Louisville and the rest of the U.S. For Richard McCarthy, it’s a good reason to not just eat the food, but to think about where each ingredient and dish comes from and what it means to us personally.
McCarthy is the executive director of Slow Food USA, a national network that supports, in their words, “good, clean and fair food for all.” He was recently in Louisville and stopped by the WFPL studio. We talked about why and how Thanksgiving cooks can use local foods in their dishes.
Here’s some of what he said:
On How the Traditional Thanksgiving Isn’t So Traditional
“If you consider what we ate 50 years ago and asking parents and grandparents what would you have eaten for Thanksgiving then. There’s a certain mythology that we all opened cranberries from a can, a Butterball turkey. There are different variations, but it’s actually become something of a caricature of the American Thanksgiving meal. It’s this mythology of a national holiday. I think it’s worth considering as we approach this Thanksgiving to make a dish that is reflective of what is available in our particular region, what is being harvested right now—because it is a harvest festival, after all. And maybe look at dishes that reflect the diversity of who lives here now.”
How We Might Also Think About the Holiday
“The most exciting thing about Thanksgiving to me is the fact that as families we sit around the table together and spend time with each other. That we should treasure. We should treasure time with each other and we should treasure the food we prepare with each other.
“There’s something ritualistic about that, and important. That food should mean something. It should tell a story of our relations to our regions, to our seasons. I don’t know what you think of what’s available on Thanksgiving this time of year, what products are in the ground. Certainly, greens are, certainly root crops are. Thanksgiving should not necessarily be a script that we follow because we’ve read this is what we’re supposed to prepare.”
On How Changing-Up the Menu Might Cause Complaints
“So maybe you don’t completely redesign the entire meal, but you throw in a couple of surprises and keep people guessing and learning. These are great teachable moments.
“As a national holiday, Thanksgiving is wonderful because it doesn’t revolve around the transaction of gifts. It revolves around the transaction of pleasure around the table, and families getting together in an age when no one has time to sit around the table, to talk to one another. “
“Slow Food back about a decade ago was particularly interested in Thanksgiving because there was a growing interest in heritage turkeys. … It set in motion what was an extraordinary questioning that took place, which is, ‘What about these turkeys we eat? Where do they come from? Is there only one variety?’ Certainly, every year I think of the discussion of, ‘Oh, will it be dry and will it take too long to cook.’ Well, there’s such a wide variety of turkeys out there, and yet we’ve ushered down a corridor where there’s only one variety, or two varieties. So, we are very interested in the exploration of more varieties, more flavors, rather than just that one.”
This story is part of WFPL’s Food & Drink Week. We’ll be exploring dining and libations in the Louisville area ahead of Thanksgiving. You’ll find new stories here everyday through the holiday.
Do you have a Thanksgiving dish that you want to share? Call WFPL at (502) 627-0485 or send us an e-mail here to let us know how it’s made and why you love it. We’ll post some of the submissions next week. Be sure to include your name.