Nov 23, 2012

Why turkeys?

Jane of Spring Lake asked, "Why do we eat turkey on Thanksgiving Day?"

Because it's so good coming out of the oven right in the middle of the Lions football game, so us football fans are distracted by our appetites and don't get mad that Thanksgiving Day dinner always seems to be scheduled during the game. Well, that would be my answer.

But the truth is, according to whyzz.com ("Whyzz parents raise wise kids"), there is no single answer to exactly when or why we started eating turkey on Thanksgiving Day.

"It is said that at the 'first' Thanksgiving in 1621, some of the colonists went out ... hunting for poultry for their feast," according to the whyzz.com explanation. "While we don’t know for sure that they ate turkey, it’s possible that birds such as wild turkey, goose or duck were on the menu."

Another theory is that the turkey's practicality and affordability leads to its popularity for a holiday meal.

An article in Slate magazine (November 2007) claims Americans have long preferred large poultry for celebrations because the birds could be slaughtered without a huge economic sacrifice.

"Cows were more useful alive than dead, and commercial beef wasn't widely available until the late 19th century," Slate writer Michelle Tsai explains. "Chicken was more highly regarded than it is today, but rooster meat was tough, and hens were valuable as long as they laid eggs. Venison would have been another option, especially during the 17th and 18th centuries, though it would have required you to hunt for your Thanksgiving meal. There was plenty of ham or brined pork around, but it wasn't considered fit for special occasions. Eating turkey was also in keeping with British holiday customs that had been imported to the New World."

Tsai also says turkeys are ideal for fall feasts. They are born in the spring and spend about seven months eating insects and worms on the farm, growing to about 10 pounds or more by Thanksgiving. By 1863, when President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed Thanksgiving a national holiday, turkeys had taken center stage for the November holiday.

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Do you have a question for the Tribune? E-mail it to news@grandhaventribune.com, and type MAILBAG in the subject line. Or mail it the old-fashioned way to: Grand Haven Tribune, MAILBAG, 101 N. Third St., Grand Haven, MI 49417. We'll do our best to get you an answer! A new Mailbag appears on grandhaventribune.com at 5 p.m. Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

 

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