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The Story Behind the Turkey

We ask: Why do the majority of us eat turkey rather than anything else on Thanksgiving?

Madelaine Vrotney and Mallory Pisarcik

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The first recorded Thanksgiving occurred in 1621 in the colony of Plymouth, Massachusetts. We have all heard the story about the Pilgrims and the Native Americans gathering around a large table and feasting for three days straight. They surrounded themselves with foods that we still eat to this day.

According to CNN, Thanksgiving is America’s second favorite holiday, with Christmas taking the first place spot. As Thanksgiving approaches, many people think about spending time with the members of their family. The typical image entire families surrounding a table filled to the brim with food. Turkey, cranberry sauce, and corn are all traditional Thanksgiving foods. But why do we eat these foods in the first place?

Let’s start with the turkey. The Pilgrims and Native Americans ate turkey for a very simple reason: it was one of the few birds that would work for a feast. The bird had to be big enough to feed a table full of hungry people and still be tasty enough to make the Pilgrims want to continue to eat it. Turkeys are also indigenous to North America, meaning that the Native Americans knew how to cook it properly, and how to prepare it so that no one got sick from eating it.

The image of the Thanksgiving Turkey has become a major part of American culture in the past couple of centuries.

If one were to Google “Thanksgiving”, hundreds of images of turkeys pop up. In Elementary school, most students made hand turkeys before Thanksgiving break. The President of the United States pardons a turkey every year, for crying out loud!

Here are a few fun “turkey facts”:

  • Approximately 46 million turkeys are eaten every year on Thanksgiving.
  • According to A National Turkey Federation Survey, 88% of Americans say that they eat turkey on Thanksgiving.
  • Every Thanksgiving, the Butterball turkey company answers over 100,000 questions regarding turkeys on their hotlines during November and December.

As for all of the other famous foods, cranberries were plentiful and in season around the time that the first Thanksgiving occurred. Historically, they did not have cranberry sauce because it requires sugar, an ingredient that was not the easiest to obtain.

Corn was also a major part of the first Thanksgiving. It would have been the first time the pilgrims would have eaten it. Also, before the first Thanksgiving occurred, the Native Americans helped teach the Pilgrims how to grow corn so that they would not starve.

It is crazy to think that the iconic Thanksgiving turkey is only an icon because it was the most suitable main dish for them to eat that day in 1621.

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The Story Behind the Turkey