(EDITOR’S NOTE: This column appeared in a past edition of THE TOLUCAN.)
Turkey can be a country or it can be a bird. It can also be a delicious meal. Since Thanksgiving is practically upon us we’re going to focus on the meal this week, although the bird turkey does have a connection to the country Turkey, thanks to our ignorant English ancestors. When the Brits first encountered turkeys in America, they incorrectly identified the birds as a type of guineafowl, (also called turkey fowl) which were being imported into England through Turkey. Actually the American turkey has no relation to the guineafowl, but the name stuck nevertheless. Thanks ignorant English ancestors!
As you know, the turkey was Benjamin Franklin’s choice for the United States’ national bird. Mr. Franklin has been considered something of a visionary, and in fact his choice would have been a perfect fit given our current president and our reputation abroad. But I digress.
Franklin did hold a special place in his heart for the turkey. According to the Franklin Institute, Ben wrote the following in a letter to his daughter:
“For my own part, I wish the bald eagle had not been chosen as the representative of our country; he is a bird of bad moral character; he does not get his living honestly…like those among men who live by sharping and robbing…he is generally poor, and often very lousy. Besides, he is a rank coward; the little king-bird, not bigger than a sparrow, attacks him boldly and drives him out of the district…For in truth, the turkey is in comparison a much more respectable bird, and withal a true original native of America. Eagles have been found in all countries, but the turkey was peculiar to ours…”
Turkeys were a favorite food of the American Indians. Once they introduced it to the white settlers it soon became a favorite of all Americans. So much so, that by the early 20th century, wild turkeys no longer roamed over much of their traditional range. They had been wiped out by hunting and the disappearance of their favored woodland habitat. But wait for the good news.
Wild turkey reintroduction programs began in the 1940s, and the birds were relocated to areas where populations had been decimated but woodlands were recovering. Such efforts worked so well that wild turkeys now live in areas where they may not have occurred when Europeans first reached the Americas. Today, flocks are also found in Hawaii, Europe and New Zealand. And I wouldn’t be surprised if Turkey even has turkeys.
Here’s a turkey fun fact, boys and girls. Only male turkeys actually go “Gobble, gobble, gobble.” The gobbles can be heard a mile away. The female turkeys probably consider this crude and obnoxious behavior since they simply communicate through clucks and small, chirp-like noises, generally accompanied by shaking their heads and rolling their eyes in a disapproving, mocking fashion at their stupid, loud, boorish mates.
According to the National Turkey Federation (yes, there is one), turkey consumption has nearly doubled in the last 25 years. Ninety-five percent of Americans surveyed eat turkey during Thanksgiving. They also estimate that about 45 million turkeys are consumed during this time. This translates to about 675 million pounds of turkey.
Now add in the cranberries. More than 94 percent of Thanksgiving dinners include cranberry sauce. Americans consume some 400 million pounds of cranberries a year, 20 percent during Thanksgiving week. Americans consume 5,062,500 gallons of jellied cranberry sauce every holiday season. Jellied cranberry sauce (the log in a can) is most preferred by consumers totaling 75 percent of overall cranberry sauce sales. (They don’t know what they’re missing, my wife and sister both make homemade sauce and it’s superior to the canned stuff.)
A typical Thanksgiving dinner at our house includes a big turkey, stuffing, sweet potatoes, succotash, carrot soufflé, hot biscuits and butter, coleslaw, a relish tray comprised of pickles, olives, radishes and green onions, and pumpkin pie with whipped cream.
As good as Thanksgiving turkey dinner is, turkey leftovers are even more fun. Could it get any better than hot open-face turkey sandwiches with mashed potatoes and gravy? For lunch a good old-fashioned turkey sandwich on fresh white bread with mustard and pickles really hits the spot.
As you watch the stupid yearly turkey pardoning ceremony at the White House, remember this…they might pardon turkeys at the White House, but there will be no turkey pardons at MY house (except maybe for the “pardon” I’ll say after dinner when I burp).
When it comes to turkey, given the choice between a country and a bird, you can give me the bird anytime.
Greg Crosby is a writer and cartoonist and former executive at the Walt Disney Company.