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Thanksgiving: Large Turkeys in Short Supply

Thanksgiving turkey
Thanksgiving turkey. Credit: Ruocaled / Flickr CC BY 2.0

Since the Pilgrims celebrated the first Thanksgiving at Plymouth, turkey has been a tradition. Over the years, it has, therefore, become almost unimaginable to celebrate the holiday without it. Even vegans and vegetarians have some sort of meat-free replacement for it.

Being a staple part of the holiday meal in the U.S. has influenced their size as well. Over the years, they have become triple what they were in the 1950s and 1960s. Today, for example, the average turkey weighs 13.83 kilograms, or 30.5 pounds.

Furthermore, while, last year, turkeys were expensive, this year, the large ones will be difficult to find due to a recent outbreak of a strain of influenza A. Thus far, forty-seven states and 3,700 infected birds have been detected. For poultry, the number stood at 50,444,060 cases in forty-six U.S. states.

Turkey trouble

Before Christmas, there is that joyful occasion leading up to even merrier ones at the end of the year. What began in 1621 in New England has continued to be harvested by past and present generations, as it is belongs to the journals of American history. Moreover, the traditional turkey was at the center of that tale.

Trouble with getting one for many Americans is, therefore, not only inconceivable but also distressing. Yet, that is exactly what is going to occur this week, and, if one does manage to find one, then it is going to cost a pretty penny. According to CNBC, it will be a sum that may be as much as seventy-three percent more.

Vegans will have no problem with the lack of turkey while carnivores might have to resort to hair scratching in order to come up with alternatives.

In order to dampen some of the frustration most likely felt, however, the American media is already popping up with some mouthwatering alternatives such as salmon, pork, Tofurky (a soy-based turkey substitute), and roasted chicken. Each is tempting but perhaps not enough for everyone.

Thanksgiving at Plymouth
Depiction of 1st celebration at Plymouth. Credit: Jennie Augusta Brownscombe / Public Domain

Tight supplies, cut backs in production in 2019 after the price of turkey drastically fell, the pandemic, and inflation are among the multiple reasons for the current dilemma in the U.S. Yet, the latest is bird flu.

HN51: avian influenza

The most recent contributing factor to the depletion of normally readily available sources of turkey is the deadly infection known as HN51, or avian influenza. In fowl, the highly contagious pathogenic virus causes organ damage and death in chickens in up to forty-eight hours after contact.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention in the U.S. has, nonetheless, stated that “the virus primarily infects domestic and wild birds, although it’s occasionally been found in mammals, including pigs, cats and, rarely, humans.”

Thanksgiving: Domesticated Turkey
Thanksgiving: Domesticated Turkey in the Everglades, Florida. Credit: Paul Harrison, CC-BY-SA-4.0 / Wikimedia Commons

How does that impact size? Well, as Live Science reported, Tom Vilsack, the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, stated at a conference that:

Turkeys being raised now for Thanksgiving may not have the full amount of time to get to 20 pounds. I don’t think you’re going to have to worry about whether or not you can carve your turkey on Thanksgiving…It’s going to be there, maybe smaller, but it’ll be there.

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