Thanksgiving wouldn’t be the same without football, awkward family conversations, and tasty turkeys. But one has to wonder — of all possible meals for Americans to stuff themselves with, how did turkeys get drafted for duty? Was it just the turkey’s bad luck?
An excellent article from Slate.com explains that unlike turkeys, cows were considered “more useful alive than dead and commercial beef wasn’t widely available until the late 19th century.” There goes the idea of a Thanksgiving burger. Turkeys, by contrast, were “fresh, affordable, and big enough to feed a crowd.” Ham and brined pork weren’t considered appropriate for special occasions, and hens were thought to be too valuable.
Timing and cost were also key factors. Slate writes that a turkey born during the spring could grow to a hefty ten pounds by the time Thanksgiving rolled around. And turkeys cost considerably less than geese and chickens. All these factors were good for hungry Americans but bad news for turkeys, who quickly became forever associated with the holiday in which gluttony is encouraged.
While calling somebody a turkey is not exactly a compliment, it’s worth noting that Ben Franklin was a huge fan of the birds. In a letter to his daughter, Ben wrote that he wished the turkey had been chosen as the national symbol of the United States. Eventually, of course, the bald eagle won out. On the eagle, Franklin wrote: “For my own part I wish the Eagle had not been chosen the representative of our country. He is a bird of bad moral character.” Maybe so, but it’s hard to imagine a smiling turkey on top of flag poles and on the back of the $1 bill.
What are some of your favorite Thanksgiving traditions? At my house, we like to eat until we feel sick and then argue over who gets to lie down on the couch. All in all, not a bad tradition.
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