There’s plenty to be thankful for on Thanksgiving. And there’s always plenty to eat. But I’ve wondered recently, why the turkey? It’s not like we’re lacking meat in the States. Chicken, beef, pork, lamb, veal, and venison are all viable alternatives. Honestly, it seems like PA has a deer overpopulation epidemic. So why not have a tender, roasted deer on the family table rather than roast turkey?
Initially I assumed that there were hordes of turkeys aimlessly wandering around the woods of Massachusetts. And so naturally the Pilgrims chose the turkey for the centerpiece of the feast. Then this tradition passed down from generation to generation until it reached the 21st century.
Yes, there were plenty of wild turkeys gobbling and strutting about when the Pilgrims landed in Plymouth. And certainly the turkey was part of the three-day feast with the Indians. But there was also venison, corn on the cob, and a bunch of veggies too. Must have been a much healthier tradition back then.
I needed to dig a little deeper. And where else do you go for quality research then Google? There’s never a dearth of information there, but the quality is often debatable. At any rate, I thought someone out there must have pondered this question before. Most people were more interested in turkey consumption rather than turkey origins. It’s nice to know you can roast, bake, grill, broil, and for the Southerners, deep fry turkey. But as they say (somewhere), a dead bird tells no tales.
After nearly losing hope, I found an informative website. Apparently, turkeys are chosen because they’re cheap, tasty, and fat. Over in China, you’ll have better luck finding a scorpion in your shoe than finding a turkey. They’re not indigenous to Asia. But in America, they are relatively cheap. I think chicken and ham can vie for the cheapest meat too. And yes, they are tasty. Some gravy dribbled over turkey is a match made in heaven.
Apparently, obesity’s not just an epidemic among American children. It’s a turkey epidemic. I’m not sure what the farmers have been feeding their turkeys (aside from antibiotic-enhanced feed and growth hormones), but they have progressively grown larger over the years. According to the Economist (a much more reputable source than Wikipedia), turkeys have been growing at an exponential rate from a wee 13-pounder in the early 1900s to a hefty 30-pounder today. In another 150 years, assuming their continued growth rate, they will outweigh humans.
Sure, that may be some tongue-in-cheek calculations there, but you can’t deny turkeys like to show off their corpulent bodies. And nothing beats seeing a turkey’s wattle for the first time. If turkeys continue to gorge themselves and disregard any reasonable diet, they may even lose their ability to fly. But honestly, who would want to fly if you could eat continuously?
I had hoped to find a more definitive reason for why we chose the turkey for Thanksgiving. It would have been nice if there had been a presidential declaration stating the turkey as the Thanksgiving bird. Or maybe the Founding Fathers could have provided an addendum to the Bill of Rights, declaring the right of every American to consume turkey on a holiday, especially on Thanksgiving. At least Ben Franklin didn’t get his way and make the turkey our national symbol. It would surely be treason to eat a national bird.
Thanksgiving is a wonderful holiday, despite being overshadowed by Christmas, and the turkey is a vital element of the feast. Without it, we’d be like a chicken with its head cut off, wandering aimlessly and purposelessly, hopelessly lost. Oddly enough, even the turkey has something to be thankful for. It may have never become a national symbol, but it is pardoned by the president each year. I’m just thankful the eagle stays on my bills and the turkey rests on my plate. Wouldn’t have it any other way.