When families in Minden sit down to a perfectly prepared turkey dinner on Thanksgiving Day, they will be joining a very large majority of their fellow Americans in the traditional feast.
Statistics from the National Turkey Federation (NTF) show 88 percent of surveyed Americans eat turkey on Thanksgiving. Approximately 46 million of the birds will tickle our palates this holiday season and that’s more than adorn tables at Christmas (22 million) and Easter (19 million) combined.
Average Americans consume more than 15 pounds of turkey per year, the NTF reports, and it’s estimated that more than $875 million will be spent putting the bird on Thanksgiving tables across the country.
Tom Firkee, a resident of Turkey Creek, Louisiana and lead researcher at the Government Office of Better Balanced Leisure Eating (GOBBLE), is a library of information on the bird once touted as our national symbol and the holiday with which he is so closely related.
“You can’t say Thanksgiving without thinking turkey, and you can’t get the real story of the bird and the holiday without talking turkey,” Firkee said. “History is more interesting today because of the turkeys of the world.”
Like other celebrities, the turkey is the subject of many legends. Here are a few Firkee Facts and other observations:
American Indians raised turkeys for food as far back as 1,000 A.D. Aztecs in Mexico raised the birds beginning around 200 B.C. 2007 census figures show 8,284 turkey farms in the U.S.
America’s first Thanksgiving in 1621 brought together 52 Pilgrims and about 50 Wampanoag Indians for three days of feasting, or at least as much feasting as the group could do on a menu of corn, barley and fowl. Compare that to the typical meal today of turkey, mashed potatoes, corn, green beans, cranberry sauce and an assortment of desserts.
On Thanksgiving Day, “Is it ready yet?” is the most spoken phrase in the world.
Benjamin Franklin may not have lobbied for the turkey as our national symbol, but he did favor it over the eagle.
According to Library of Congress records, in 1784 he said, “For my 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…”
nThanksgiving was proclaimed a national holiday in 1863 by President Abraham Lincoln. The official celebration date was moved forward by one week by President Franklin Roosevelt in 1939.
Not all turkeys presented as the centerpiece of a Thanksgiving meal wind up in American stomachs. Each year, the President is given three turkeys; two dressed for dinner and one live bird reportedly in casual attire. The live bird receives a presidential pardon and goes to live on a historical farm.
“The turkey is probably the most popular fowl when it comes to holiday food. He just doesn’t have the public relations expertise of chickens or a promoter like Colonel Sanders,” Firkee said. “But I guess no one has ever asked a turkey what he thinks about all that.”