There may or may not have been turkey at the first thanksgiving, but there will probably be one on your holiday table. Centuries before Columbus, the Aztecs domesticated wild turkeys, and Spanish conquerors took some birds home to Europe where they became popular, reaching England between 1524 and 1541. That means the New England “pilgrim” Puritans were as familiar with turkeys as their Wampanoag dinner guests, but neither would recognize the over-bred bird you bought this week.
A wild tom turkey usually weighs about 20 pounds and can fly for up to a mile with speed bursts up to 55 miles per hour. It’s dark-feathered, sly, slim, tall and long-legged, and can run like the devil through the brush. It can live up to 10 years if it doesn’t get an infection and can be found in any of the contiguous 48 states.
A domestic tom turkey can weigh up to 40 pounds, has white feathers, stumps around on short legs, and sports a huge breast. Most market turkeys come from Minnesota or North Carolina. A domestic turkey can’t fly or reproduce normally, is treated with antibiotics, and only lives for 2 or 3 months before it gets slaughtered for your dining pleasure. Happy Thanksgiving!
“Head To Head: Wild Vs. Supermarket Turkeys (Infographic),” World Science Festival
“Wild and domestic turkeys: birds of a different feather,” South Carolina Department of Natural Resources
“On This Thanksgiving, Celebrating The Wild Turkey,” Barbara J. King, NPR
“Look How Much Bigger Thanksgiving Turkeys Are Today Than in the 1930s,” Kiera Butler, Mother Jones
“How Turkeys Got Broad, White Breasts,” Sara Bir, Modern Farmer
“How America’s Thanksgiving turkeys got so huge,” Svati Kirsten Narula, Quartz
“Benjamin Franklin praises the virtues of the turkey,” from a 1784 letter to his daughter via Lapham’s Quarterly
“Get to Know the Turkey Species You Don’t Eat,” Matt Somiak, Mental Floss
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Image by Mike Licht. Download a copy here. Creative Commons license; credit Mike Licht, NotionsCapital.com
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