Like that sad, neglected dish of creamed onions we feel compelled to make every year, this column has become a Thanksgiving tradition I can’t shake. I didn’t submit it last year and got some grief from folks on the trot that they missed it, so I decided to give it a record fourth airing. When you bow your head this year before your feast, please join me in giving thanks to the professional turkey ‘stimulators’ who have made your entrée possible.
Thanksgiving is tomorrow. A common Mulberry’s Thanksgiving question (second only to “where’s your bathroom?” post-Turkey Trot) is whether we’ll be selling turkeys this year. We’d love to. We’ve looked into it, too, but realized that the logistics aren’t on our side. Turkeys are enormous. There’s space for approximately 4 ½ turkeys in our walk-in. So you see, we couldn’t have much of a program.
While we’re talking turkey, did anyone else hear the Marketplace report last week about turkey reproduction, with Kai Ryssdal interviewing that Freakonomics guy (Stephen Dubner)? Dubner asked what percentage of turkeys he thought were the result of artificial insemination. Kai answered 82.6%, which frankly I thought was a little high. The punch line of the story? 100% of American turkeys are produced through artificial insemination. It’s the only way turkeys are created anymore.
This situation came about because of our national predisposition for white meat. Seems in the 50’s, ‘regular’ turkeys were pushed out of the market by a breed called ‘broad-breasted whites’. Why? You guessed it: more white meat. Broad-Breasted Whites grow faster and bigger, and they’ve been bred over time to have larger and larger breasts. To the point where it has become physically impossible for turkeys to, well, make more turkeys. All that white meat is literally getting in the way.
Dubner described the labor-intensive process of professionals who ‘work with’ 70 lb. male turkeys –the toms – to ‘secure their contributions.’ That same team turns around to artificially inseminate each female turkey – the hens. The intense demand created by all those Settlemonsters and Kellehers means that this very hands-on (!) procedure happens weekly, for about 5-6 months.
Whew. That story certainly made me think differently about my favorite part of Thanksgiving dinner. There’s an object lesson in there somewhere about the folly of messing with Mother Nature. I’ve seen firsthand at Mulberry’s that Americans treat food like any other commodity – we want what we want (white turkey meat, peaches in February) when and how we want it. To the point where our turkeys, free-range, organic, or not, are anatomically celibate. Chew on that. Oh, and Happy Thanksgiving!