Would turkey be so popular if it didn't have its own holiday?

Crunching the Numbers: Thanksgiving Turkey

Each year, the National Turkey Federation presents the U.S. president with two live turkeys. Nowadays, those birds receive official pardons during a special ceremony.
Each year, the National Turkey Federation presents the U.S. president with two live turkeys. Nowadays, those birds receive official pardons during a special ceremony.
Luke Frazza/AFP/Getty Images

­Now let's take a closer look at the golden-brown roast that graces the tables of some 88 percent of American families on Thanksgiving Day [source: National Turkey Federation]. Back in 1929, Americans ate only about 18 million turkeys annually; by 1970, that number was approximately 116 million. In 2007, the number of turkeys raised in the United States was about 272 million, and that wasn't even a peak year. In 1996, U.S. growers produced a record 303 million turkeys [source: USDA]. Now keep in mind, out of the 2007 birds, only about 235 million of those got tossed down the gullets of Americans, about 10 percent were exported -- up from only 1.2 percent in 1990 [source: National Turkey Federation].

When it comes to Thanksgiving, things aren't quite so straightforward. We mentioned earlier that in 2007, 46 million turkeys were eaten in the United States on Thanksgiving Day. At an average of 15 pounds apiece, that's close to 700 million pounds of turkey [source: National Turkey Federation]. But even though Americans have been increasing their turkey consumption over the years (and beginning to export more and more birds), they haven't been solely increasing the number they eat on a certain November night.

Back in 1970, about 50 percent of the turkey consumed in the United States was eaten around the holidays. Over the years that number has dropped to about 29 percent -- meaning people are eating it throughout the year [source: National Turkey Federation]. We know this because overall turkey consumption has about doubled in that same time period. In 1970, Americans chowed down an average of 8 pounds (a little more than 3 and a half kilograms) of turkey per person per year; that number has now climbed to about 18 pounds [source: National Turkey Federation]. Maybe it's the fact that turkeys tend to be low in fat and high in protein, but whatever the reason, the now-flightless fowls seem to be getting more popular for the dinner table every day.

­­The verdict? Back in the days of disco, people might have been grabbing turkey off the shelves because it was the popular choice for the holiday season. But in the 20th century, the tables are turning. Turkey is a year-round fixture on many menus, and although Thanksgiving is still big business in the industry, turkey would probably retain its popularity even if mutton and lamb tried to muscle their way into that special fall holiday celebration.

Is all this talk of turkey making you sleepy? Well, as you can read in "Is there something in turkey that makes you sleepy?" it's probably not the tryptophan that's the culprit. For more interesting information about poultry and holidays, you can dig into some of the links below.

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More Great Links


  • AdoptATurkey Web site. (10/21/2008) http://www.adoptaturkey.org/
  • "Broiler, Turkey, and Egg Production: 1970 to 2006." U.S. Department of Agriculture. National Agricultural Statistics Service. (10/22/2008) statab/tables/08s0841.xls+Table+841.+%22Broiler,+Turkey,+and+Egg+Production: +1970+to+2006%22&hl=en&ct=clnk&cd=1&gl=us&client=firefox-a
  • Hesser, Amanda. "Turkey Finds Its Inner Duck (and Chicken)."New York Times. 11/20/2002. (10/21/2008) http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9C0DE0DD1F30F933A15752C1A9649C8B63
  • Holbrook, Steve. "Talking Turkey: The real story on the bird that's come to represent American Thanksgiving." Metro Santa Cruz.11/24/2004. (10/21/2008) http://www.metroactive.com/papers/cruz/11.24.04/turkeys-0448.html
  • Meikle, Bonnie and Ponoka, Alberta. "Breed Profile: The Beltsville Small White Turkey" FeatherSite.com. (10/21/2008) http://www.feathersite.com/Poultry/Turkeys/BeltsBonnie.html
  • National Turkey Federation Web site. (10/21/2008) http://www.eatturkey.com/home.html
  • "Overview of the U.S. Turkey Industry." United States Department of Agriculture. National Agriculture Statistics Services. 11/9/2007. (10/22/2008) http://usda.mannlib.cornell.edu/usda/current/usturk/usturk-11-09-2007.pdf
  • Reese, Frank et al. "Definition of a Heritage Turkey." American Livestock Breeds Conservancy. (10/21/2008) http://www.albc-usa.org/cpl/turkdefinition.html
  • "Thanksgiving Day." Encyclopedia Britannica. (10/21/2008) http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/590003/Thanksgiving-Day
  • Tucker, Neely. "A Pardon With All the Trimmings." Washington Post. 11/18/2004. (10/21/2008) http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A58912-2004Nov17.html
  • "Turkey." Encyclopedia Britannica. (10/21/2008) http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/609899/turkey
  • "Turkey Facts." University of Illinois Extension. (10/21/2008) http://www.urbanext.uiuc.edu/Turkey/facts.html
  • "Turkeys: Beltsville Small White." American Livestock Breeds Conservancy. (10/21/2008) http://www.albc-usa.org/cpl/belt.html
  • "Turkeys Raised." United States Department of Agriculture. National Agriculture Statistics Services. 9/26/2008/ (10/21/2008) http://www.nass.usda.gov/QuickStats/index2.jsp
  • "Turkey Trivia." British Turkey Information Services. (10/21/2008) http://www.britishturkey.co.uk/turkey-bytes/turkey-history.shtml