Let’s Talk Turkey
This Thursday, millions of turkeys will be baked, fried, stuffed, and smoked. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture more than 45 million turkeys are cooked and eaten in the U.S. at Thanksgiving. That is one sixth of all turkeys sold in the U.S. each year. American consumption of turkeys soared from 8.3 pounds in 1975 to 18.5 pounds in 1997. Ten years later, the number dropped in 2007 to 13.8 pounds.
This year, 248 million turkeys were expected to be raised in the United States. That’s up two percent from the number raised during 2010. The turkeys produced in 2010 together weighed 7.11 billion pounds and were valued at $4.37 billion.
You can’t have Thanksgiving dinner without turkey, but there are several mandatory sides Americans cherish with their turkey. This year an estimated 750 million pounds of cranberries will be produced in the U.S., along with 2.4 billion pounds of sweet potatoes, 1.1 billion pounds of pumpkins, 266 million pounds of cherries, 2.01 billion bushels of wheat (used in pie crusts, bread, rolls…etc), and 656,340 tons of green beans.
Juicy butterball turkeys are generally the main Thanksgiving cuisine, but these birds were not always the most popular centerpiece on the Thanksgiving table. In 1621 when Plymouth colonists and Wampanoag Indians celebrated the first Thanksgiving with a feast, they gobbled up many other foods than just turkey.
Lobster, goose, duck, seal, cod and eel were plentiful at the time, and are considered to be the most likely among meals served at the first feast. Deer meat and wild fowl are the only two items historians are certain were on the Autumn menu.
There are a number of explanations for the origin of Thanksgiving’s favorite dinner guest.
Queen Elizabeth of sixteenth century England preferred goose at harvest time, but when the Pilgrims arrived in America roasted turkey replaced roasted goose due to an abundance of wild turkeys.
Another story behind turkeys being on the Thanksgiving chopping block regards the “History of the Plymouth Plantation,” written by William Bradford. Bradford was one of the leaders of the English Puritan Separatists , better known as “The Pilgrims.” This history was his personal journal, completed around 1650, after he had served some 35 years as governor of the colony.
Bradford’s documentation was lost when the British confiscated them during the War of Independence.
Bradford’s documents were rediscovered in 1854. After that, turkey was accepted as an icon of Thanksgiving Day due to Bradford’s recording revolving around the early feasts.
Americans have long preferred large poultry for celebrations, for whatever reason. The big birds can be slaughtered without a huge economic sacrifice. Turkeys were fresh, affordable, and big enough to feed a crowd.
According to Benjamin Franklin, turkey is a respectable bird and is a true and original native of North America. At one time, the turkey and the bald eagle were each considered for the national symbol of America. Franklin argued on behalf of the turkey, saying it was a better choice than the bald eagle, whom he felt was a “coward.”
Turkey is definitely a traditional delicacy for the Thanksgiving celebration., but what if the turkey had become the face of America? Might we be having Bald Eagles for lunch this Thursday?