In the middle of the meat section of my local big box supermarket store were several coolers piled high with frozen turkeys. The rock-hard carcasses had different brand names, but all looked the same. The sign above the display assured me these birds had been vegetarians their whole lives and had not ever been given antibiotics or growth hormones. Smaller displays elsewhere boasted that their birds had only consumed organic feed, lived in pastures, and were psychologically well-balanced and happy before they had their heads chopped off. The wide variety of choices we have for a Thanksgiving Day turkey speaks to the affluence of our society and the abundance of our food supply.
Not very many years ago, you had only 2 choices when it came to turkey: frozen or not frozen. Well, okay, three choices if you count wild turkey that you went out and shot. Today, however, holiday turkey is big business. Most turkey producers raise a specific kind of bird, developed primarily for the holiday table. The Broad Breasted White turkey is particularly bred for Thanksgiving dinner and similar large feasts. Its large size (specimens can grow to over 40 pounds) and meat content make it ideal for such situations, although the breed must be artificially bred and suffers from health problems due to its size. But this time of year, we Americans have to have our turkey. One third of all annual turkey consumption occurs between Thanksgiving and Christmas. As a segment of consumers have become obsessed about how their food is raised, the turkey industry has responded with specialized birds at specialized prices.
Alexander Hamilton proclaimed that no “Citizen of the United States should refrain from turkey on Thanksgiving Day,” and anyone who wants turkey on Thanksgiving can get it. Even if you do not have the financial resources to load up your table with a top of the line bird, there are places to get a free Thanksgiving Day meal in almost every community in the U.S. American Farm Bureau Federation’s 32nd annual price survey of classic items found on the Thanksgiving Day dinner table indicates the average cost of this year’s feast for 10 is $49.12, a 75-cent decrease from last year’s average of $49.87. “For the second consecutive year, the overall cost of Thanksgiving dinner has declined,” AFBF Director of Market Intelligence Dr. John Newton said. “The cost of the dinner is the lowest since 2013 and second-lowest since 2011.
This Thanksgiving, we can give thanks for an agricultural system that produces a variety, quality, and affordability in food choices that is the envy of much of the world. Let’s also give thanks for our freedom to choose the kind of food we want on our table. Be thankful that food zealots have not been able to mandate what we eat or how it is produced. A free market economy and market-oriented agriculture will assure that we will have plentiful choices to make for many Thanksgivings to come.
By Gary Truitt