November 2007

Where's The Beef?

Author: Paul deVere

A Turkey’s Take on Thanksgiving

Not that I want to throw a wet feed sack over a $3.5 billion industry, but I want to make this very, very clear: Thanksgiving is not our favorite day of the year. While you know me by the generic “Tom,” my real name, not that you’d care, is Gabriel. Yes, like the angel.

My mother, God rest her soul, grew up to the sounds of the CD, “Connecting with Your Angels,” (ISBN-10: 1401903126), by Doreen Virtue (I’m not making that up) at the turkey farm. Hence, my name.

Look, we are very aware of our place in the food chain (we, understandably, prefer to call it the “pecking order”). We’re sort of proud of the fact we’re your #4 protein choice. Chicken, beef and pork, in that order, head the list. (It may reassure you that soybeans are way down there at #27.) While it is a bit disturbing that close to 50 million turkeys will pay the ultimate price for your Thanksgiving dinner, your price for feeding a table of 10 is still under forty bucks—and that includes the trimmings! And we’ve sort of become the symbol of giving thanks, which obviously, for us, has its upside and downside.

I may sound a little older than your average, four-month-old tom. I am. My mother, Barbara, a Broad-breasted White, had a fling, one dark and stormy night, with my dad, Claude, a wild turkey (in every sense of that name), and it saved my life. Mom was a laying hen, so she got to hang around a little longer. And since Claude was a wild turkey, he simply “took off” after spending an evening with mom. I’ve been able to avoid the “stun gun” because I’m something of an anomaly.

Stun gun? See, that’s how they do it. They dip our heads in a tub of electrified water, stunning us right before they start preparing your Thanksgiving dinner. Some farms, I’m told, don’t even go to the trouble of stunning before they turn fowl into food. That seems to be O.K. with the USDA, because turkeys and chickens were left out of the 1958 Humane Slaughter Act. Go figure.

Since I turned out looking pretty much like my dad (i.e., “wild”), the farm’s owners didn’t know what to do with me, ergo the anomaly business. I ate like a horse (well, a very hungry poult—young turkey) and hardly gained any weight. That would be a big “no-no” in the turkey business. More weight, more bucks; you know the drill.

So the head cheese had this bright idea. No, this brilliant idea! He offered me, and I was accepted to be, one of the two turkeys the President is going to pardon this year! And where do I get to spend my many (I hope) remaining years? DISNEYLAND! It’s all going to be announced later this month. The public will again get to vote on the name, and I urge you to pick “Gabriel.”

Knowing I’m getting a reprieve, I felt compelled to straighten a few things out about what you think you know about turkeys and, for that matter, Thanksgiving.

First up, about turkeys being dumb. Consider this. Lady turkeys, that would be “hens” to you, enjoy about 14 weeks of sunlight before they become someone’s dinner. The “toms” (see above) get to hang out for a few more weeks to bulk up. So when a turkey says, “It was like my whole life flashed before me,” that “flash” would last for about a nanosecond.

Give me a break! In 14 weeks, we have to learn to walk, eat, gobble (guys), cluck (gals), and develop meaningful relationships. Doesn’t leave a lot of room for getting a handle on Dick and Jane, to say nothing about getting a PhD in astrophysics.

How we got to be the bird of choice for Thanksgiving (now also called Turkey Day—how lucky is that?) can be credited to that evil woman, Sara Josepha Hale, writer and poet, and author of “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” As editor of Godey’s Lady’s Book, a magazine out of Philadelphia, she pushed to make Thanksgiving a national holiday. Her recipes, featuring turkey as the main ingredient for this “holiday,” sure didn’t help our cause.

But the idea of a turkey as the main course didn’t come from that first Thanksgiving with the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag. The fowl on the menu was most likely goose, duck, crane, swan, partridge, eagle and, just maybe, wild turkey. They also probably had cod, eel, lobster, venison and seal.

Now let’s talk about breeding. It really gets brutal here. My dad, Claude (if you’re still out there dad, “Yo!”) was a wild turkey. Very cool looking: black feathers with white and tan bands, a little bit of red and brown in spots. Mom, being a domesticated turkey, was all white feathers. Period. How did that happen? Why did that happen? Did you know the turkey is the only domesticated fowl from the Western Hemisphere? Huh? That’s a fact! But when wild turkeys were plucked, those black feathers left “unsightly” black dots on the carcass. Ergo, white feathers were bred in. White feathers don’t leave little black dots. Does anyone other than me smell “marketing department” here?

Oh, right. White meat. Your favorite part of a turkey, six to one. Messing with our genes has gotten so bad that certain breeds can’t walk upright because their breasts (white meat) are too big! Wonderful.

Finally, there’s the Web. Google “turkey bird” and you wind up with a bunch of recipes. Super. But, if you didn’t know already, you will also learn that one of my personal heroes, Ben Franklin, wanted the wild turkey to be the national bird of the United States, not the bald eagle—a relative of the buzzard.

So go ahead; punch in (thank you, National Turkey Federation). I’m heading over to right after I pack my bags for the Magic Kingdom. If you come visit, I’ll be the one wearing the Cubs cap.

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