IF all the Thanksgiving turkeys in this month's magazines weren't trussed so tightly, they would probably be writhing in embarrassment.
They're all wearing the same outfit.
Pick up Gourmet, Good Housekeeping, Bon Appetit or even Family Circle and you'll see the turkey of the month reclining on a platter bedecked in greenery and kumquats.
In other magazines, the accessories may vary slightly, but the effect is the same. The free-range fashion police have spoken, and they're talking orange and green.
It's bad enough that the turkeys themselves bear as much resemblance to what most Americans will confront on Thanksgiving as Kate Moss does to the average Safeway shopper.
No big bird stuck in an oven for four hours ever emerges as shapely and perfect as Bon Appetit's does, with its breast under a veil of suspiciously bright green minced thyme. (I did the herb rub one Thanksgiving. My turkey looked like an ashtray.)
Same old, same old
But with fantasy food, you expect a little more creative flair. Flip through four or five magazines this month and you're likely to feel as if the holiday is really "Groundhog Day": Didn't I just see a turkey in kumquats and leaves?
Gourmet, the Vogue of the food world, carries the look off most successfully, partly because its bird is roasted to a George Hamilton turn but mostly because it's presented feet first rather than breast forward. Even a classic suit can pass for couture if the model is doing a handstand on the cover.
Good Housekeeping, the Gap of the food world, actually follows the same pattern as Gourmet but the leaves and fruit are arranged in clumps rather than laid out like a blanket. Family Circle also uses the same leaves and fruit, but its turkey makes it literally seem like a pale imitation of the Gourmet cover; the poor thing looks as if it were interrupted in a tanning booth.
Taste of Home is the most surprising knockoff. The magazine, published far from big-city stylists, is to Gourmet what Wal-Mart is to Armani. But its buttery bird is surrounded with those same fashion-forward kumquats and green herbs, along with lady apples and sliced star fruit (possibly to pull your eye away from the stuffing that protrudes from the turkey like a tumor).
Sunset's turkey has greenery around it but with trend-bucking pomegranates. For Select magazine, though, which it publishes for supermarket chains, the big bird was surrounded by squash slices and, of course, kumquats and greenery.
A few magazines tried to think out of the hatbox, like Saveur, which has a long-standing aversion to anything cutting-edge. Its turkey is part of a feature on Clementine Paddleford, and the garnishes are vintage: era-appropriate curly parsley and cherry tomatoes.
Food & Wine went for the minimalist look, with a few flashes of green around its soft-focus bird, while Martha Stewart Living presents a fashion victim, with way too many leaves and berries and pods. Both turkeys have a forlorn aspect, though; they make you feel as if Thanksgiving must be a sad season for the rich.
When bad things happen ...
Probably the scariest bird is the one on the cover of Fine Cooking, the one with just a halfhearted scattering of sage leaves around its contorted body. The legs are not tied together tidily but are tucked under the fanny strip, and the skin is oddly taut. It looks as if something really bad happened in a yoga class.
Given that every food magazine except Vegetarian Times feels compelled to feature a stylized turkey in its pages this month, it's probably not surprising that there is so much overlap in the accessories department.
Most food stylists are apparently too busy dressing next year's turkey to talk, but Paul Grimes, who deserves credit or blame for Family Circle's turkey, had a simple explanation: They went for the seasonal and the dramatic. Also, he said, "kumquats come with those beautiful leaves. You just pull them out of the little box and jam them around the bird."
Grimes refused to say what the well-stuffed turkey will be wearing next Thanksgiving. But he insisted that all the froufrou is always meant to inspire readers to try the same look at home.
And that seems rather silly considering no safety-conscious cook would ever set out a turkey with the stuffing still in it breeding bacteria, let alone with leaves lying in the path of the carving knife.
Besides, any reader knows the best accessory for a turkey is not greenery but gravy. It may not be pretty, but it covers a multitude of sins.